Preliminary Interpretations of Transthoracic Echocardiograms by Cardiology Fellows

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Echocardiograms are often obtained after business hours on an urgent or emergent basis to assist in the care of patients with complex presentations. Considerable variation exists among academic medical centers with regard to who performs and interprets these studies, with different levels of cardiology fellow involvement in scanning and/or interpreting. On-call echocardiographic interpretation can be educationally valuable for cardiologists in training but may come at the expense of patient care. The aim of this study was to examine the agreement of preliminary fellows' interpretations of weekend on-call transthoracic echocardiograms with official attending cardiologists' interpretations.


Cardiology fellows perform preliminary interpretations of sonographer-obtained echocardiograms obtained on weekends, with final reports performed by attending cardiologists the following business day. In this study, 358 consecutive echocardiograms obtained on weekends over a 12-month period were reviewed. Discrepancies between the preliminary and final interpretations were categorized as either major (diagnoses with implications for urgent change in management) or minor (diagnoses without such implications). All discrepancies were also categorized as a missed diagnosis, an overcall (of severity), or an undercall.


No preliminary interpretation was identified in 18.4% of the studies (66 of 358). Of the remaining on-call echocardiograms (n = 292), the overall discrepancy rate in interpretations between fellows and attending cardiologists was 16.8%. Out of these, the minor discrepancy rate was 14.4% (42 of 292), and the major discrepancy rate was 2.4% (seven of 292). Misses, overcalls, and undercalls accounted for 29%, 31%, and 40% of all discrepancies, respectively.


The results indicate that although minor discrepancies between fellows' and attending cardiologists' interpretations were common (14.4%), major discrepancies were uncommon (2.4%) and similar to major discrepancy rates from the radiology literature. In general, discrepant interpretations were more likely to result from changes in severity, but misses accounted for almost all of the major discrepancies. Further research is needed to compare the clinical impact of different models of on-call echocardiographic services.

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