Can your doctor correctly interpret an ECG?

October 31st, 2008 - 4:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 31 (IANS) An electrocardiogram or ECG can help the doctor determine whether the graphs indicate a heart attack or an acid attack from last night’s dish. Correct interpretation may prompt life-saving, emergency measures; incorrect interpretation may delay care with grave consequences.

Currently, there is no uniform way to teach doctors under training how to interpret an ECG or assess their competence in the interpretation.

To address the lack of uniformity, a team of physicians from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSM) and the American College of Cardiology has developed the first Web-based interactive training and examination programme for reading ECGs.

“We hope this tool helps increase expertise among general practitioners in the interpretation of a very commonly used screening test that’s part of nearly every adult examination,” said team leader R. Michael Benitez, associate professor at the UMSM, Baltimore and director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program.

A physician who wants to specialise in cardiology must pass electrocardiographic interpretation as part of the initial certifying process; failure of the ECG section means failure of the entire exam, said an UMSM release.

General practitioners are often the first to detect a person with an underlying cardiac disease during a general screening evaluation. “They need to correctly identify and diagnose problems that can significantly and imminently affect the health of their patients,” said Benitez.

An ECG shows the heart’s electrical activity. It can indicate heartbeat irregularities and pinpoint heart muscle abnormalities. There are 120 codes used to define events detected through 12 leads attached to the chest.

“A lot of memorisation is necessary to learn how to read an ECG,” said Benitez. “The rules include such things as: what is the voltage in a particular lead or a combination of leads or what is the axis of the vector of this electrical signal?” Pattern recognition is also part of the learning process.

While the basic ECG technology was developed more than a 100 years ago, the field of ECG interpretation has become part of the high-tech revolution. Computers can make a preliminary interpretation of the ECG readout.

But more often than not, said Benitez, the computer gets certain things wrong, such as the interpretation of rhythm abnormalities.

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