Interpretations of and management actions following electrocardiograms in symptomatic patients in primary care: a retrospective dossier study

L. M. E. Wagenvoort, R. T. A. Willemsen*, K. T. S. Konings, H. E. J. H. Stoffers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background The electrocardiogram (ECG) has become a popular tool in primary care. The clinical value of the ECG depends on the appropriateness of the indication and the interpretation skills of the general practitioner (GP). Objectives To describe the use of electrocardiography in primary care and to assess the performance of GPs in interpreting ECGs and making subsequent management decisions. Methods Three hundred ECGs, recorded during daily practice in symptomatic patients by 14 GPs who regularly perform electrocardiography, were selected. Corresponding data of the indications, interpretations and subsequent management actions were extracted from the associated medical records. A panel consisting of an expert GP and a cardiologist reviewed the ECGs and specified their agreement with the findings and actions of the study GPs. Results The most common indications were suspicion of a rhythm abnormality (43.7%), ischaemic heart disease (42.7%) and patient reassurance (14.3%). The study GPs interpreted 53.3% of the ECGs as showing no (new or acute) abnormality, whereas supraventricular rhythm disorders (12.3%), conduction disorders (7.7%) and repolarisation disorders (7.0%) were the most frequently reported pathological findings. Overall, the expert panel disagreed with the interpretations of the study GPs in 16.2% of cases, and with the GPs' management actions in 11.7%. Learning goals for GPs performing electrocardiography could be formulated for acute coronary syndrome, rhythm disorders, pulmonary embolism, reassurance, left ventricular hypertrophy and premature ventricular complexes. Conclusion GPs who feel competent in electrocardiography performed well in the opinion of the expert panel. We formulated various learning objectives for GPs performing electrocardiography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-505
Number of pages8
JournalNetherlands Heart Journal
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Electrocardiography
  • General practice
  • Quality of health care
  • Clinical skills
  • Diagnosis
  • Cross-sectional studies
  • ECG

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