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Br J Sports Med. 2012 Apr;46(5):335-40. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-090612. Epub 2012 Feb 5.

Accuracy of ECG interpretation in competitive athletes: the impact of using standised ECG criteria.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, 4060 East Stevens Way, University of Washington, Box 354410, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.



Interpretation of ECGs in athletes is complicated by physiological changes related to training. The purpose of this study was to determine the accuracy of ECG interpretation in athletes among different physician specialties, with and without use of a standised ECG criteria tool.


Physicians were asked to interpret 40 ECGs (28 normal ECGs from college athletes randomised with 12 abnormal ECGs from individuals with known ciovascular pathology) and classify each ECG as (1) 'normal or variant--no further evaluation and testing needed' or (2) 'abnormal--further evaluation and testing needed.' After reading the ECGs, participants received a two-page ECG criteria tool to guide interpretation of the ECGs again.


A total of 60 physicians participated: 22 primary care (PC) residents, 16 PC attending physicians, 12 sports medicine (SM) physicians and 10 ciologists. At baseline, the total number of ECGs correctly interpreted was PC residents 73%, PC attendings 73%, SM physicians 78% and ciologists 85%. With use of the ECG criteria tool, all physician groups significantly improved their accuracy (p<0.0001): PC residents 92%, PC attendings 90%, SM physicians 91% and ciologists 96%. With use of the ECG criteria tool, specificity improved from 70% to 91%, sensitivity improved from 89% to 94% and there was no difference comparing ciologists versus all other physicians (p=0.053).


Providing standised criteria to assist ECG interpretation in athletes significantly improves the ability to accurately distinguish normal from abnormal findings across physician specialties, even in physicians with little or no experience.

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