OBJECTIVE: To assess the cardiovascular physical examination skills of emergency medicine (EM) housestaff and attending physicians. METHODS: Prospective, cohort assessment of EM housestaff and faculty performance on 3 valvular abnormality simulations (mitral regurgitation, mitral stenosis, and aortic regurgitation) conducted on the cardiology patient simulator, "Harvey." Participants examined each of the 3 study disease simulations and proposed a diagnosis (session I). They were then given a cardiac examination form and repeated the programmed simulations (session II). The examination form was used to prompt physicians to interpret 23 separate cardiac findings for each simulation in a multiple-choice format. RESULTS: Forty-six EM housestaff (PGY1-3) and attending physicians were tested over a 2-month study period. Physician responses did not differ significantly among the different levels of postgraduate training. The overall correct response rates for participants were 59% for aortic regurgitation, 48% for mitral regurgitation, and 17% for mitral stenosis. For aortic regurgitation, recognition of a widened pulse pressure and recognition of diastolic decrescendo murmur were associated with a correct diagnosis (p < 0.01). For mitral regurgitation, correct assessment of the contour of the holosystolic murmur predicted a correct diagnosis (p < 0.001). For mitral stenosis, proper characterization of the mitral area diastolic murmur predicted a correct diagnosis (p < 0.001). CONCLUSION: Housestaff and faculty had difficulty establishing a correct diagnosis for simulations of 3 common valvular heart diseases. However, accurate recognition of a few critical signs was associated with a correct diagnosis in each simulation. Training programs may need to focus attention on selected key components of the cardiovascular examination to facilitate teaching of physical diagnosis.
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