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HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE MAY HELP HARVARD DOCTORS AS WELL AS ATHLETES

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The home-court advantage belongs not only to sports teams. Even among doctors, the home team has a leg up in spirited games of what's-the-diagnosis, according to a droll study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors, an "away" team from the University of California at San Francisco, decided to test their impression that Harvard Medical School doctors "win" more often than visitors when matching their diagnostic wits during case conferences at the Massachusetts General Hospital.These puzzle matches, involving patients with a boggling array of esoteric symptoms and diseases, have been presented for all to see in the New England Journal for 71 years.

Sure enough, the Californians found, the Harvard home team came up with the right diagnosis a remarkable 82 percent of the time. Visiting docs scored only 74 percent. And when MGH physicians were scored separately from their teammates from other Harvard teaching hospitals, they scored 95 percent.