The impact of computer-assisted auscultation on physician referrals of asymptomatic patients with heart murmurs

Clin Cardiol. 2008 Feb;31(2):79-83. doi: 10.1002/clc.20185.


Background: As many as 50-70% of asymptomatic children referred for specialist evaluation or echocardiography because of a murmur have no heart disease.

Hypothesis: Computer-assisted auscultation (CAA) can improve the sensitivity and specificity of referrals for evaluation of heart murmurs.

Methods: Seven board-certified primary care physicians were evaluated both without and with use of a computer-based decision-support system using 100 prerecorded patient heart sounds (55 innocent murmurs, 30 pathological murmurs, 15 without murmur). The sensitivity and specificity of their murmur referral decisions relative to American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) guidelines, and sensitivity and specificity of murmur detection and characterization (innocent versus pathological) were measured.

Results: Sensitivity for detection of murmurs significantly increased with use of CAA from 76.6 to 89.1% (p <0.001), while specificity remained unaffected (80.0 versus 81.0%). Computer-assisted auscultation improved sensitivity of correctly identifying pathological murmur cases from 82.4 to 90.0%, and specificity of correctly identifying benign cases (with innocent or no murmurs) from 74.9 to 88.8%. (p <0.001). Referral sensitivity increased from 86.7 to 92.9%, while specificity increased from 63.5 to 78.6% using CAA (p <0.001).

Conclusions: Computer-assisted auscultation appears to be a promising new technology for informing the referral decisions of primary care physicians.

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted*
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Heart Auscultation / instrumentation*
  • Heart Murmurs / diagnosis*
  • Heart Murmurs / diagnostic imaging
  • Heart Murmurs / physiopathology*
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography