Objective: To investigate the interobserver reliability and diagnostic validity of a commercial electronic stethoscope for pediatric telecardiology.
Materials and methods: Pairs of blinded pediatric cardiologists made independent diagnoses, recommendations concerning follow-up echocardiography, and specific judgments regarding heart sounds, murmurs, and congenital heart disease using an electronic (ES) or an acoustic (AS) stethoscope on 78 pediatric cardiology outpatients and at a distance of 450 km (280 miles) with 38 telemedicine cardiology outpatients. The kappa statistic (K) indexed the instruments' interexaminer reliabilities. The validity of ES was measured by K for ES versus AS and by the percentage of cases where the findings for ES and AS differed sufficiently to suggest an important ES screening error.
Results: For heart disease, AS, ES, and tele-ES reliabilities were satisfactory (K = 0.80, 0.67, and 0.80, respectively), as were AS agreement with hands-on ES (K = 0.65) and with tele-ES (K = 0.64). The AS and ES reliabilities and ES/AS agreement were also satisfactory for systolic regurgitant and diastolic pulmonic murmurs (K = 0.63-0.78) but were unsatisfactory for evaluable heart sounds and other murmurs (K = 0.16-0.60). The ES yielded clinically important disagreements with AS in 5.4% of the clinic cases and 10.5% of the telemedicine cases (P = 0.67). In determining the need for additional work-up (echocardiography) or follow-up appointments, hands-on ES and tele-ES had a combined accuracy of 92%, with a sensitivity of 88% and a specificity of 97%.
Conclusions: Hands-on ES provided reliable and valid screening for congenital heart disease. Tele-ES was highly reliable but had reduced diagnostic validity. Examiner blinding, bandwidth limitations, and artificial restrictions on the remote assistant may have contributed to this reduced performance. As these factors are easily correctable, we regard the ES as a highly promising tool for pediatric telecardiology.