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Cardiologists may be misinterpreting echocardiograms

A study has shown widespread errors by cardiologists in reading echocardiology results, and linked these mistakes to insufficient training.  In the study, sonography specialists reviewed cardiologists' interpretations of echo tests and found major errors in 29% of all cases. 

Physician training appeared to be play an important role, since both the number of each type of echocardiogram read over a year's time and the number of continuing medical education credit hours per year were linked to interpretation errors.  All physicians who interpret heart ultrasounds are required to have a minimum of six months of training during their fellowship; the highest level of training, Level 3, requires a minimum of 12 months of cardiac ultrasound training in an accredited fellowship.  The study revealed that less than 1% of the doctors who performed clinical readings of the echocardiograms had achieved the highest level of training. 

"Physicians are doing the final interpretation, but they are not physicians that have expertise in echocardiography.  They do cardiac cath, they have a private practice, they do angiographies, CT," said one of the researchers.  These nonspecialist cardiologists may be less likely to stay abreast of new, high-level modalities like 3D echocardiography, she noted. "They may be using it but not know how to correctly interpret it, and that's what we found."

The moral of this story is to get a second opinion from a specialist.  If you believe your physicians have made errors, click here for further information.