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Clin Rheumatol. 2011 Mar;30(3):403-7. doi: 10.1007/s10067-010-1632-y. Epub 2010 Dec 17.

Musculoskeletal examination--an ignored aspect. Why are we still failing the patients?

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  • 1Exercise Physiology, Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London, W12 0HS, UK.


Over the past two decades, rheumatologists from around the world have not only championed the musculoskeletal system examination but also modified the undergraduate teaching curriculum. This has led to the development and adoption of the gait, arms, legs and spine (GALS) screening along with regional examination techniques. The purpose of this study is to review current practice, determining the frequency of patient exposure to appropriate examination and confidence of junior doctors when dealing with MSK conditions. Two district-general hospitals (non-teaching) and one teaching hospital in North-East London were chosen. At each site, 50 patient notes were reviewed from the acute admission wards for medicine and surgery and the medical assessment unit. Factors considered included whether GALS screenings had taken place, documentation of MSK examinations and assessment of confidence of junior doctors in assessing MSK conditions. GALS screenings were performed for 4% of patients on the medical assessment unit, 7% of acute medical and 0% of acute surgical patients on admission. Examination of the MSK system yielded better results with 16%, 22% and 10% on each of the respective wards. Interviews with junior doctors found 10% routinely screening for MSK conditions, despite 87% feeling confident in taking MSK histories. This prospective audit of clinical practice highlights that patients failed to have a minimal assessment of the MSK system through GALS screenings. When examining the MSK system, results were somewhat better, although still fewer than expected. It is curious that the majority of junior doctors in training felt confident in dealing with MSK disease but few did it in practice. This begs the question of whether current teaching curricula and strategies are adequate. At a time where there is ever-increasing national momentum to address issues on obesity and cardiovascular health, our patients are still deprived of a standard MSK examination by the medical faculty.

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