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OBJECTIVES—To determine whether access to a computer generated electrocardiogram (ECG) report can reduce errors of interpretation by senior house officers (SHOs) in an accident and emergency department.
METHODS—Ten SHOs were asked to interpret 50 ECGs each: 25 with computer generated reports, 25 without. Their answers, and the computer generated reports, were compared with a "gold standard" produced by two experienced clinicians. The primary outcome measure was the proportion of major errors of interpretation.
RESULTS—The computer reading system made two major errors (4%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1% to 13.5%) compared with the gold standard. Access to the computer report did not significantly reduce major errors among SHOs (46 (18.4%) with report v 56 (22.4%) without, odds ratio 0.64, 95% CI 0.36% to 1.14%, p=0.13) or improve the proportion completely correct (104 (41.6%) with report v 91 (36.4%) without, odds ratio 1.43, 95% CI 0.88 to 2.33, p=0.15).
CONCLUSIONS—SHOs have a high error rate when interpreting ECGs, which is not significantly reduced by access to a computer generated report. Junior doctors should continue to seek expert senior help when they have to interpret a difficult ECG.
Keywords: electrocardiogram; computer reading systems; accident and emergency