Introduction Paramedics are involved in examining, treating and diagnosing patients. The accuracy of these diagnoses is evaluated using diagnostic accuracy studies. We undertook a systematic review of published literature to provide an overview of how accurately paramedics diagnose patients compared with hospital doctors. A bivariate meta-analysis was incorporated to examine the range of diagnostic sensitivity and specificity.
Methods We searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, Embase, AMED and the Cochrane Database from 1946 to 7 May 2016 for studies where patients had been given a diagnosis by paramedics and hospital doctors. Keywords focused on study type (‘diagnostic accuracy’), outcomes (sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratio?, predictive value?) and setting (paramedic*, pre-hospital, ambulance, ‘emergency service?’, ‘emergency medical service?’, ‘emergency technician?’).
Results 2941 references were screened by title and/or abstract. Eleven studies encompassing 384 985 patients were included after full-text review. The types of diagnoses in one of the studies encompassed all possible diagnoses and in the other studies focused on sepsis, stroke and myocardial infarction. Sensitivity estimates ranged from 32% to 100% and specificity estimates from 14% to 100%. Eight of the studies were deemed to have a low risk of bias and were incorporated into a meta-analysis which showed a pooled sensitivity of 0.74 (0.62 to 0.82) and a pooled specificity of 0.94 (0.87 to 0.97).
Discussion Current published research suggests that diagnoses made by paramedics have high sensitivity and even higher specificity. However, the paucity and varying quality of studies indicates that further prehospital diagnostic accuracy studies are warranted especially in the field of non-life-threatening conditions.
PROSPERO registration number CRD42016039306.
- prehospital care
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