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Am J Emerg Med. 2005 Jul;23(4):483-7.

The interrater variation of ED abdominal examination findings in patients with acute abdominal pain.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Ground Silverstein, Philadelphia, Pa 19104, USA.



The physical examination of the abdomen is crucial to emergency department (ED) management of patients with abdominal pain. We sought to determine the interrater variation between attending and resident physicians in detecting abdominal exam findings.


Research enrollers surveyed attending and resident physicians on abdominal exam findings in the ED in patients with abdominal pain. Strength of agreement was calculated using the kappa statistic.


A convenience sample of 122 surveys was completed. Calculated kappa results are in parentheses. There was almost perfect agreement on the presence of masses and substantial agreement on the need for imaging studies. There was moderate agreement on guarding, distension, tenderness, and need for laboratory tests and surgical consultation. For 88 (72%) patients with tenderness, substantial agreement was calculated for epigastric tenderness, moderate agreement on right upper quadrant, supraumbilical, suprapubic, left lower quadrant, right lower quadrant tenderness, and fair agreement on left upper quadrant tenderness. Sixty-one (50%) patients received pain medicine in the ED. Among those, there was fair agreement on a presence of a surgical abdomen. Upper level resident physicians noted a higher level of agreement with the attending physician for tenderness than junior resident physicians.


There was moderate agreement between resident and attending physicians for most of the findings in patients with abdominal pain. Recognition that selected findings are more variable than others should encourage careful confirmation of resident physicians' assessments in teaching settings.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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