Diagnostic accuracy of respiratory diseases in primary health units

Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2014 Nov-Dec;60(6):599-612. doi: 10.1590/1806-9282.60.06.021.


Respiratory diseases are responsible for about a fifth of all deaths worldwide and its prevalence reaches 15% of the world population. Primary health care (PHC) is the gateway to the health system, and is expected to resolve up to 85% of health problems in general. Moreover, little is known about the diagnostic ability of general practitioners (GPs) in relation to respiratory diseases in PHC. This review aims to evaluate the diagnostic ability of GPs working in PHC in relation to more prevalent respiratory diseases, such as acute respiratory infections (ARI), tuberculosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 3,913 articles were selected, totaling 30 after application of the inclusion and exclusion criteria. They demonstrated the lack of consistent evidence on the accuracy of diagnoses of respiratory diseases by general practitioners. In relation to asthma and COPD, studies have shown diagnostic errors leading to overdiagnosis or underdiagnosis depending on the methodology used. The lack of precision for the diagnosis of asthma varied from 54% underdiagnosis to 34% overdiagnosis, whereas for COPD this ranged from 81% for underdiagnosis to 86.1% for overdiagnosis. For ARI, it was found that the inclusion of a complementary test for diagnosis led to an improvement in diagnostic accuracy. Studies show a low level of knowledge about tuberculosis on the part of general practitioners. According to this review, PHC represented by the GP needs to improve its ability for the diagnosis and management of this group of patients constituting one of its main demands.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control
  • General Practice*
  • Humans
  • Lactones
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spirometry
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis


  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Lactones
  • bacillariolide III
  • C-Reactive Protein