Comparing RCPs to physicians for the description of lung sounds: are we accurate and can we communicate?

Respir Care. 1990 Oct;35(10):969-76.


Precise communication among clinicians of chest-auscultation findings depends on use of standardized nomenclature for lung sounds. To identify the current practice of clinicans in describing lung sounds, we surveyed physicians and respiratory care practitioners (RCPs).

Materials and method: Surveys were specifically designed to identify: (1) whether RCPs and physicians use similar terms to describe adventitious lung sounds (ALS), (2) whether changes are occurring in response to the recommendations of the ATS-ACCP Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Pulmonary Nomenclature, and (3) whether RCPs and physicians differ in their ability to accurately recognize ALS. We surveyed 156 RCPs at the 1987 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Respiratory Care and 223 pulmonary physicians (PPs) and 54 nonpulmonary physicians (NPPs) at the 1988 Annual Meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians. Each survey participant was required to listen to five examples of ALS using earphones and an audiocassette player and then to write 'free-form' descriptions of what they heard. (All participants listened to the same ALS.)

Results: Fine crackles and high-pitched monophonic and polyphonic wheezes were readily recognized by the majority of RCPs and physicians. Fine crackles were described as rales or crackles; high-pitched, monophonic wheezes were described as stridor or wheezes; however, high-pitched, polyphonic wheezes were usually described as wheezes. RCPs and physicians used a variety of terms to describe coarse crackles and rhonchi. The term rhonchi was frequently used inappropriately by all groups surveyed. There were no significant differences between PPs and RCPs in their ability to accurately recognize adventitious lung sounds; however, PPs were superior to NPPs (p less than 0.05) in this regard. PPs were superior to RCPs and NPPs (p less than 0.05) in appropriately using the term 'fine' for the description of crackles.

Conclusion: All three groups of clinicians need to improve their ability to recognize and describe lung sounds.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Allied Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Auscultation / standards*
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Respiratory Therapy / standards*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • United States