Developing Pattern Recognition: The Key to Pediatric Dermatology

June 9, 2010

After completing training in pediatrics, dermatology, and pediatric dermatology, I am convinced that the art of medicine, especially as practiced in the field of pediatric dermatology, consists largely of an ability to use pattern recognition to separate the usual from the rare.

Welcome to the fifth annual edition of Consultant For Pediatricians' special issue, "Focus on Dermatology." It is my personal honor to share with you some of my own and my colleagues' most fascinating-and most common-cases in pediatric dermatology. These cases were selected with the aim of helping you differentiate between ordinary presentations of skin disorders and atypical presentations that may require a novel treatment, a more extensive workup, or even hospital admission in order to avoid patient morbidity.

After completing training in pediatrics, dermatology, and pediatric dermatology, I am convinced that the art of medicine, especially as practiced in the field of pediatric dermatology, consists largely of an ability to use pattern recognition to separate the usual from the rare. While my coauthors and I have tried to explain these distinctions in words, we all agree that verbal descriptions are a poor substitute for pattern recognition skills that have been well honed through extensive clinical experience.

However, as Malcolm Gladwell has suggested in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,1 the human brain has an uncanny ability to develop pattern recognition in a short time. We as physicians can facilitate that development by learning what lies behind the clinical patterns we see. I hope that in the pages that follow, we can help you elucidate what you probably have already gathered from your own experience, so that when your clinical acumen tells you that the skin condition you're seeing is a little different from what you're used to in that setting, you will be better able to trust your instincts and pursue the next step in ruling out that "rare bird" diagnosis or promptly refer the patient to your colleague in pediatric dermatology.

References:

REFERENCE:

Gladwell M.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

. New York: Little, Brown and Company; 2005.