The accuracy of primary care teams in diagnosing disorders of the shoulder

J Eval Clin Pract. 2011 Feb;17(1):118-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2010.01377.x. Epub 2010 Sep 2.


Objective: The aim of this retrospective, observational study was to determine the accuracy of diagnoses given by a multitude of primary care services to patients referred to an orthopaedic upper limb surgeon with a focus towards shoulder pathology.

Methods: Records of all patients referred to a single upper limb surgeon over a 1-year period were reviewed. The diagnosis in the primary care setting was compared with the initial working diagnosis in the specialist clinic and against the final diagnosis following specialist investigation/intervention.

Results: 114 eligible patients were identified. General practitioners referred 35% of patients, musculoskeletal triage services referred 63% of patients and independent physiotherapists referred 2% of patients. It was found that 37% of patients were not given a diagnosis by the primary care team. When a diagnosis was given, accuracy was 50% (κ = 0.28) when correlated against that given by an orthopaedic upper limb surgeon.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that knowledge of shoulder conditions is limited amongst primary care practitioners. There does not appear to be any difference in accuracy between general practitioners and musculoskeletal triage services.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Shoulder / physiopathology*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult