This is a non-randomised, delayed intervention study design. The study is not randomised since the educational intervention will be administered in groups and randomising groups will require unrealistic sample size. However, using repeated measures and a delayed intervention design provides an optimal solution without compromising the study quality. Such a design is preferable for evaluation of the educational intervention since all participants receive the intervention and the design enables measure of progress across and within groups, including control for possible (although unlikely) differences between groups at the starting time.
Clinicians participating in this study will be recruited from a population of general practice registrars who are undergoing GPTerm1 or GPTerm2 stages of training at GP Synergy (a major provider of general practice training in Australia), at two training sites. Participants from site A will be the ‘early intervention group’ while the group at site B will be the ‘delayed intervention group’. The two interventions will be identical and will differ only by the time of implementation. Participants will undergo evaluations of clinical reasoning (based on the Script Concordance Test (SCT)  upon commencement of project (Time Point 1: before the early intervention), immediately after the early intervention and before the delayed intervention starts (Time Point 2), and at the end of the delayed intervention (Time Point 3).
The impact of the intervention will be measured by comparing the progress each group makes (changes in SCT scores) over each intervention period.
Two systematic reviews suggest that the effect size on SCT between resident doctors and expert doctors ranged 0–3.2; typically around 1 and the effect of educational interventions such as Educational meetings/interactive educational sessions was d > 1 ,. Based on those studies, we expect that the intervention will yield an effect size of d ≥ 1.0 measured by the differences in the SCT results between the intervention and the control groups between Time Point 1 and Time Point 2. A similar increase is expected for the delayed intervention group between Time Point 2 and Time Point 3. Therefore, a sample size of 34 clinicians (17 intervention & 17 control) will have 80% power to detect an effect size of d = 1 (one sd.) with an alpha of 0.05 (two sides) .
The educational intervention
The GET is a clinical educational instrument that has been developed by a team at UNSW Medicine, Australia. It is structured to facilitate a two stage process of engagement. Each stage (requiring approx. 30–45 mins) is designed to fit within existing workshop style GP training sessions. The two stages are based on two instruments (A&B) that have been designed to guide clinicians’ engagement with hypertension guidelines and the key decision points in managing hypertension. The GET will be supplemented by a final panel discussion with experts (experienced general practitioners and a cardiologist) which will enable participants to discuss any concerns and clarify any issues that arises out of their engagement with the GET. This discussion, drawing on participant experiences of the usefulness of the guidelines, also aims to develop recommendations to enhance the usability of the existing guidelines.
The first stage instrument (A) is based on a straightforward hypertension patient presentation, devoid of any complicating contextual factors. This stage provides a framework for clinicians to critically evaluate their decisions in relation to such a hypertension presentation. This stage will focus clinicians on the ‘key decision points’ relevant to the ideal management of such an uncomplicated patient presentation, and will facilitate clinicians’ engagement with hypertension guidelines.
The second stage instrument (B) will be based on a typical patient presentation in a general practice setting, including contextual influences related to patients, practice limitations and time pressure considerations. This stage will provide a guide to the key decision points that need to be considered by the clinicians, with a framework to identify and articulate the reasons for their decisions in relation to the key decision points. This process will also provide a mechanism for clinicians to identify specific contextual factors that influence their decisions.
It is envisaged that this two stage process will not only enhance clinician engagement with hypertension guidelines, but will also enhance their clinical decision making skills.
The second stage instrument (B) also encourages clinicians to reflect on contextual issues particular to the management of hypertension in general practice, and allows them to suggest potential modifications to the guidelines. This is an important contribution to the process of continuously improving the quality of clinical practice guidelines, in order to meet conditions or contexts which might have been overlooked or have become outdated.
The final expert panel discussion will provide an opportunity for these suggestions to be discussed with relevant experts and peers, in order to develop evidence-based, contextually appropriate, consensus guidelines. This will address a commonly identified issue that impacts on the uptake of guidelines: the perceived ‘top-down’ nature of guidelines and accompanying interventions to promote their use, and the limited involvement of end-user clinicians in the process of guideline development -.
The GET will be reviewed by senior GPs and will be trialled on GPs and GP trainees (who have progressed beyond the participants’ stage of training). Feedback from this process will be systematically collected and used to inform further refinements if required.
The script concordance test (SCT) is a test designed to assess examinees’ organisation of knowledge for application in clinical decisions . The organisation of knowledge is named a script. This written test is based on authentic clinical scenarios that form the basis for test items. The test items are categorised as diagnostic, investigative or treatment options and examinees are required to rate their agreement with the provided response options based on a combination of clinical information that is provided . While it is a relatively new assessment method, the SCT is well established in the medical education literature as a tool with good psychometric properties and good face validity for assessment of clinical decision-making competence. It is expected that the SCT will enable the evaluation of the impact of the GET on developing clinical reasoning skills.
Prior to commencement of the study, the SCT items will be reviewed by the project team that includes experienced GPs and medical educators. An SCT scoring panel of experienced GPs will be established to ensure scoring that is relevant to the GP trainee context.
Participating registrars will also be invited to participate in semi-structured qualitative interviews that will take about 20–30 minutes, to obtain their views on the effectiveness and feasibility of GET.
Written informed consent will be obtained from participants, using two ‘Participant Information & Consent Forms’ approved by the Human Research Ethics Panel of UNSW Australia (Approval ID: 2014-7-26). Informed written consent will thus be obtained for both the survey stage and the interview stage of the study.
The main analyses in this study will employ Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). (a) Factorial ANOVA will be used to compare the two groups at Time Point 1 and identify possible differences on SCT scores across groups; (b) One-way repeated measure ANOVA will be used to measure the impact of the intervention by comparing differences in SCT scores within individuals and across groups between Time Point 1–2 and between Time Point 2–3. This analysis is appropriate as it allows identifying the source for the change in the SCT scores (intervention, initial level of competence or errors , and testing the hypothesis that the change in the SCT was made by the intervention. We set up a significance level of p < .05 to demonstrate that the intervention was successful.
Ethics approval and funding
This study has ethics approval from the Medical and Community Human Research Ethics Advisory Panel of the University of New South Wales (Reference Number: 2014-7-26).
The study is funded by a Vanguard Grant (award ID 100260) from the National Heart Foundation of Australia.