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Failure of physicians to recognize functional disability in ambulatory patients



Failure of physicians to recognize functional disability in ambulatory patients



Annals of Internal Medicine 114(6): 451-454



Objective: To assess the ability of internists to identify functional disabilities reported by their patients. Design: Comparison of responses by physicians and a random sample of their patients to a 12-item questionnaire about physical and social function. Setting: A hospital-based internal medicine group practice in Boston, Massachusetts [USA], and selected office-based internal medicine practices in Los Angeles, California [USA]. Subjects: Five staff physicians, three general internal medicine fellows, and 34 internal medicine residents in the hospital-based practice and 178 of their patients. Sixty-six physicians in the office-based practices and 230 of their patients. Measurements and Main Results: Physicians underestimated or failed to recognize 66% of disabilities reported by patients. Patient-reported disabilities were underestimated or unrecognized more often in the hospital-based practice than in the office-based practices (75% compared with 60%, P < 0.05). Physicians overstated functional impairments in 21% of paired responses in which patients reported no disability. Conclusions: Physicians often underestimate or fail to recognize functional disabilities that are reported by their patients. They overstate functional impairment to a lesser degree. Because these discrepancies may adversely affect patient care and well-being, medical educators and clinicians should pay more attention to the assessment of patient function.

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Accession: 007342851

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PMID: 1825267


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