The contribution of a non-invasive test to clinical care The impact of echocardiography on diagnosis, management and patient anxiety
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We prospectively studied the impact of echocardiography on a cardiologist's diagnosis and management plan and on patient anxiety for 300 consecutive referrals. There was an impact on diagnosis in 90% of patients. Most common was confirmation of diagnosis usually with the addition of information pertinent to management (81%); change of disease category or resolution of diagnostic doubt was uncommon (9%). The consultant cardiologist believed the heart to be normal in 48 patients who did not have any associated disease; none had any echocardiographic abnormality. The cardiologist reported increased diagnostic confidence in 74% of all patients but management changed in only 9%. One-third of all patients reported reduced anxiety when this was an important clinical issue but in less than half of them did the cardiologist consider that echocardiographic information was essential for reassurance. Anxiety was increased in 6%, and in 12% the anxiety response was inconsistent with the test result. The clinical contribution of the test report was most obvious for those patients (30%) in whom this data was required for (a) a decision concerning specific diagnostic or technical intervention (b) a change of management plan which implied obvious or likely health benefit (c) reassurance which was a clinically important issue. The magnitude of this contribution was related to the study indication. The value of echocardiography is obvious when assessing patients for invasive intervention or when proper treatment or adequate reassurance are impeded by diagnostic doubt. However, for many current indications, we need better definition of factors which predict a clinically useful result. In particular, when the aim is to rule-out disease, our results suggest that an expert cardiological opinion would often be more appropriate than an echocardiogram.
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