Background: Heart murmurs are common in children, and they are often referred to a specialist for examination. A clinically innocent murmur does not need further investigation. The referral area of the University Hospital is large and sparsely populated. A new service for remote auscultation (telemedicine) of heart murmurs in children was established where heart sounds and short texts were sent as an attachment to e-mails.
Aim: To assess the clinical quality of this method.
Methods: Heart sounds from 47 patients with no murmur (n = 7), with innocent murmurs (n = 20), or with pathological murmurs (n = 20) were recorded using a sensor based stethoscope and e-mailed to a remote computer. The sounds were repeated, giving 100 cases that were randomly distributed on a compact disc. Four cardiologists assessed and categorised the cases as having “no murmur”, “innocent murmur”, or “pathological murmur”, recorded the assessment time per case, their degree of certainty, and whether they recommended referral.
Results: On average, 2.1 minutes were spent on each case. The mean sensitivity and specificity were 89.7% and 98.2% respectively, and the inter-observer and intra-observer variabilities were low (kappa 0.81 and 0.87), respectively. A total of 93.4% of cases with a pathological murmur and 12.6% of cases with an innocent murmur were recommended for referral.
Conclusion: Telemedical referral of patients with heart murmurs for remote assessment by a cardiologist is safe and saves time. Skilled auscultation is adequate to detect patients with innocent murmurs.
- heart murmur
- electronic stethoscope
- method assessment
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