Training and competency evaluation for interpretation of 12-lead electrocardiograms: recommendations from the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 2003 May 6;138(9):747-50. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-138-9-200305060-00012.


This paper is part 1 of a 2-part series on interpretation of 12-lead resting electrocardiograms (ECGs). Part 1 is a position paper that presents recommendations for initial competency, competency assessment, and maintenance of competency on ECG interpretation, as well as recommendations for the role of computer-assisted ECG interpretation. Part 2 is a systematic review of detailed supporting evidence for the recommendations. Despite several earlier consensus-based recommendations on ECG interpretation, substantive evidence on the training needed to obtain and maintain ECG interpretation skills is not available. Some studies show that noncardiologist physicians have more ECG interpretation errors than do cardiologists, but the rate of adverse patient outcomes from ECG interpretation errors is low. Computers may decrease the time needed to interpret ECGs and can reduce ECG interpretation errors. However, they have shown less accuracy than physician interpreters and must be relied on only as an adjunct interpretation tool for a trained provider. Interpretation of ECGs varies greatly, even among expert electrocardiographers. Noncardiologists seem to be more influenced by patient history in interpreting ECGs than are cardiologists. Cardiologists also perform better than other specialists on standardized ECG examinations when minimal patient history is provided. Pending more definitive research, residency training in internal medicine with Advanced Cardiac Life Support instruction should continue to be sufficient for bedside interpretation of resting 12-lead ECGs in routine and emergency situations. Additional experience or training in ECG interpretation when the patient's clinical condition is unknown may be useful but requires further study.

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support / education
  • Certification
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Electrocardiography / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education
  • Internship and Residency