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J Pediatr. 1990 Feb;116(2):200-6.

Mothers' clinical judgment: a randomized trial of the Acute Illness Observation Scales.

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Department of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.


The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the reliability, sensitivity, and specificity of mothers' judgments about acute illnesses in their children could be improved by using the Acute Illness Observation Scales (AIOS). At the 2-week well child care visit in a primary care center and a private practice, 369 mothers were divided at random into an intervention group (n = 183) and a control group (n = 186). A teaching film and booklet were used to educate mothers in the intervention group about the AIOS; control group mothers were taught a 3-point global scoring system for evaluating the chance of serious illness. In the 32 months of follow-up, 704 acute illnesses were evaluated in tandem and independently by mothers and pediatricians before the history and physical examination; 20 of these illnesses were serious. The judgments of the intervention group were more reliable than those of the control group (weighted kappa = 0.50 vs 0.26, respectively), as was the specificity of their judgments (85% vs 52%, respectively; p less than 0.0001). No difference was noted in the sensitivity of intervention group and control group mothers' judgments (80% vs 90%, respectively). Teaching parents to assess specific clinical information, as represented in the AIOS, has its greatest effect on the reliability and specificity, not the sensitivity, of their judgments. Such teaching could lead to fewer unnecessary office visits during acute illnesses.

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