New research in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that doctors who spend more time doing a colonoscopy perform better (find more polyps) than doctors who do the procedures more quickly.

As the New York Times reported, the study found "an astonishing gap in proficiency — clearly related to the time spent looking. The doctors who spent six minutes or more searching for polyps — the minimum time recommended in the professional literature — detected growths at nearly four times the rate of those who did the procedure more quickly. The doctor who took the longest time found polyps 10 times more often than the doctor who spent the least time."

The times further noted that the group of doctors studied was subsequently able to improve their performance, just by using a clock. The group "decided to spend at least eight minutes on withdrawing the instrument and looking for polyps — clocked by a timer with a bell — and has increased its polyp detection rate 50 percent." See original story.

Learnings for the learning-and-performance field:

  1. Research can uncover insights that would otherwise be overlooked.
  2. Simple measures can drastically improve performance.
  3. Evaluating our performance is a moral imperative, because it can have real-world effects.