Introduction: There have been few studies of the cardiac auscultation skills of residents and family physicians. This study assessed a group of family physicians' cardiac auscultation skills and use of a computerized self-instructional program to improve these skills.
Methods: Forty-two volunteer family physicians participated in an initial assessment of cardiac auscultation skills using test recordings of 12 common heart sounds. They were provided with a CD-ROM instructional program and were asked to devote 15 hours of self-study to the program and to return in 9 months for reassessment.
Results: The 42 family physicians in the initial assessment identified 39% of the heart sounds. Twenty-one returned for reassessment and showed significant improvement. Their initial mean score was 4.3 of 12 (35%), and their final mean score was 8.0 of 12 (67%). They found the CD-ROM program to be a valuable resource. The feature most liked was the unlimited opportunity to review sounds, cases, and tutorials. Most frequent problems related to computer access or skills. Eleven respondents reported using the program to resolve patient problems in their clinical practices.
Discussion: The cardiac auscultation skills of a group of volunteer family physicians showed low initial scores that improved significantly after self-study with a CD-ROM instructional program. The program was a valuable self-instructional aid, and physicians used it as a resource in clinical practice. However, only 50% of the initial group completed the self-study and returned for final assessment. Providing more support and assistance in the initial phase, especially with computer use, may enable completion of similar computerized self-study programs.