Background and objectives: Although otitis media is a common problem in primary care, little is known about the use of diagnostic tools such as pneumatic otoscopy, tympanometry, acoustic reflectometry, or tympanocentesis by family physicians in training.
Methods: This was a self-reported observational study of family practice residents' use of otitis media diagnostic tools. Twenty-three family practice programs in Texas and Oklahoma were surveyed during November and December 2000. Residents were asked about their use of diagnostic tools, and, if tools were not used, they were asked the reason for not using them. Residents were also asked about the criteria they used to diagnose otitis media, and their responses were compared to criteria recommended by national guideline panels.
Results: The response rate was 61% (n = 316). The percentage of residents using pneumatic otoscopy was 66%, tympanometry 29%, acoustic reflectometry 2%, and tympanocentesis 0%. The most common reasons cited for not using tools were lack of training or unavailability of equipment. Fifty-five percent of family practice residents do not report pneumatic otoscopy for diagnosing otitis media and thus did not use recommended criteria. Faculty training of residents in the use of diagnostic tools was associated with a higher rate of using these tools.
Discussion: Few residents believed that diagnostic tools had no value in the diagnosis of otitis media, but lack of training or equipment problems were reported as contributing to their not using these tools. Half of family practice residents may be inadequately diagnosing middle ear problems since they did not report that pneumatic otoscopy was necessary for diagnosing otitis media. Because training was associated with higher rates of using appropriate diagnostic tools, family medicine faculty can play a significant role in improving the residents' diagnostic skills.