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Overreliance on Symptom Quality in Diagnosing Dizziness: Results of a Multicenter Survey of Emergency Physicians

      OBJECTIVE

      To assess emergency physicians' diagnostic approach to the patient with dizziness, using a multicenter quantitative survey.

      PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS

      We anonymously surveyed attending and resident emergency physicians at 17 academic-affiliated emergency departments with an Internet-based survey (September 1, 2006, to November 3, 2006). The survey respondents ranked the relative importance of symptom quality, timing, triggers, and associated symptoms and indicated their agreement with 20 statements about diagnostic assessment of dizziness (Likert scale). We used logistic regression to assess the impact of “symptom quality ranked first” on odds of agreement with diagnostic statements; we then stratified responses by academic rank.

      RESULTS

      Of the 505 individuals surveyed, 415 responded for an overall response rate of 82%. A total of 93% (95% confidence interval [CI], 90%-95%) agreed that determining type of dizziness is very important, and 64% (95% CI, 60%-69%) ranked symptom quality as the most important diagnostic feature. In a multivariate model, those ranking quality first (particularly resident physicians) more often reported high-risk reasoning that might predispose patients to misdiagnosis (eg, in a patient with persistent, continuous dizziness, who could have a cerebellar stroke, resident physicians reported feeling reassured that a normal head computed tomogram indicates that the patient can safely go home) (odds ratio, 6.74; 95% CI, 2.05-22.19).

      CONCLUSION

      Physicians report taking a quality-of-symptoms approach to the diagnosis of dizziness in patients in the emergency department. Those relying heavily on this approach may be predisposed to high-risk downstream diagnostic reasoning. Other clinical features (eg, timing, triggers, associated symptoms) appear relatively undervalued. Educational initiatives merit consideration.
      CI (confidence interval), CT (computed tomography), ED (emergency department), EP (emergency physician), EM (emergency medicine), OR (odds ratio)
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