Background Pre-hospital clinicians are involved in examining, treating and diagnosing patients. The accuracy of pre-hospital diagnoses is evaluated using diagnostic accuracy studies. We undertook a systematic review of published literature to provide an overview of how accurately pre-hospital clinicians diagnose patients compared to 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 of Systematic Reviews from 1946 to 7th May 2016 for studies where patients had been given a diagnosis by pre-hospital clinicians and hospital doctors. Key words 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?’). The sole researcher screened titles and abstracts to ensure eligibility criteria were met, as well as assessing methodological quality using QUADAS-2.
Results 2941 references were screened by title and/or abstract. Eleven studies encompassing 3 84 985 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%–100% and specificity estimates from 14%–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, 0.82) and a pooled specificity of 0.94 (0.87, 0.97).
Conclusions Current published research suggests that diagnoses made by pre-hospital clinicians have high sensitivity and even higher specificity. However, the paucity and varying quality of eligible studies indicates that further pre-hospital diagnostic accuracy studies are warranted especially in the field of non-life-threatening conditions and trauma.
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