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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2004 Aug;43(8):1045-9. Epub 2004 Jun 8.

More 'cries from the joints': assessment of the musculoskeletal system is poorly documented in routine paediatric clerking.

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  • 1Department of Rheumatology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.



The aim of this study was to describe the assessment of the musculoskeletal (MSK) system in comparison with other systems in routine paediatric medical clerking. Furthermore, to survey trainee paediatricians (SPRs, specialist registrars) about their self-rated confidence in assessing the MSK system.


Case notes of consecutive general paediatric medical patients admitted to three UK hospitals over a 4-week period were assessed using a standard pro forma. All patients had been assessed by a consultant paediatrician during their admission. A postal questionnaire was sent to all SPRs in training in each of the hospitals, regarding their confidence in assessing the MSK system compared with other systems and their exposure to MSK teaching.


Case notes of 257 patients [117 females, median age 3 yr (range 1-18 yr)] were reviewed. The most common reason for admission was acute infection, although the spectrum of other recorded diagnoses varied between hospitals. Thirteen children (5%) had an acute problem (e.g. infection) against a background of chronic disease. The case note documentation showed that cardiovascular (CVS), respiratory (RS) and gastrointestinal (GI) systems were assessed in the vast majority (>90%) of patients, irrespective of the underlying diagnosis. However, other systems were less well recorded; the trend being the same in each hospital and in descending order, the neurological system (38%), skin (32%), eyes (10%) and musculoskeletal system (4%). Only 2.7% (7/257) patients were documented to have been asked about MSK symptoms, and only 1.6% (4/257) had any documentation of joint examination--in all cases this was limited (e.g. range of movement of the knee only), and no patients had documentation of gait being examined, even in those children presenting with 'limp'. The response rate to the postal questionnaire was 60% (67/112). The self-rated confidence in MSK assessment was markedly low in comparison with other systems, even though 61/67 recalled some teaching of the MSK system as an undergraduate (61/67) or postgraduate (50/67). Of note none could recall teaching as an undergraduate in paediatric MSK assessment and where there had been postgraduate rheumatology MSK teaching this had been delivered by paediatric rheumatologists in many cases (34/50), reflecting the centres participating in the study.


In routine general paediatric medical in-patient clerking and throughout the admission, MSK assessment was rarely documented, and even where present was limited. This contrasts markedly with other systems which were examined in most children irrespective of the presenting complaint. Self-rated confidence in MSK assessment is low amongst SPRs compared with other systems, despite most recalling some teaching. This discrepancy between teaching and clinical practice needs to be addressed in undergraduate and postgraduate training.

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