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J Accid Emerg Med. 1997 Sep;14(5):295-8.

Interpretation of trauma radiographs by junior doctors in accident and emergency departments: a cause for concern?

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Royal Devon and Exeter (Wonford) Hospital, Exeter, UK.



To investigate how well junior doctors in accident and emergency (A&E) were able to diagnose significant x ray abnormalities after trauma and to compare their results with those of more senior doctors.


49 junior doctors (senior house officers) in A&E were tested with an x ray quiz in a standard way. Their results were compared with 34 consultants and senior registrars in A&E and radiology, who were tested in the same way. The quiz included 30 x rays (including 10 normal films) that had been taken after trauma. The abnormal films all had clinically significant, if sometimes uncommon, diagnoses. The results were compared and analysed statistically.


The mean score for the abnormal x rays for all the junior doctors was only 32% correct. The 10 junior doctors were more experience scored significantly better (P < 0.001) but their mean score was only 48%. The mean score of the senior doctors was 80%, which was significantly higher than the juniors (P < 0.0001).


The majority of junior doctors misdiagnosed significant trauma abnormalities on x ray. Senior doctors scored well, but were not infallible. This suggests that junior doctors are not safe to work on their own in A&E departments. There are implications for training, supervision, and staffing in A&E departments, as well as a need for fail-safe mechanisms to ensure adequate patient care and to improve risk management.

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