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January 1, 1997

The Impact of Clinical History on Mammographic Interpretations

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle (Dr Elmore); the Departments of Internal Medicine (Ms Wells and Dr Feinstein) and Epidemiology and Public Health (Dr Feinstein), Yale University, New Haven, Conn: and the Department of Internal Medicine, New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY (Dr Howard).

JAMA. 1997;277(1):49-52. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540250057032

Objective.  —To determine whether mammographic interpretations are biased by the patient's clinical history.

Design.  —On 2 occasions, separated by a 5-month wash-out period, 10 radiologists read mammograms for the same 100 women, randomly divided into 2 groups of 50. For 1 group, the clinical history was supplied for the first reading and omitted (except for age) for the second reading. This sequence was reversed in the other group. In addition, 5 cases were shown a third time with a deliberately leading sham history.

Patients.  —Selected with stratified random sampling from 3 categories of diagnostic findings (64 had mammographic abnormalities) and from the definitive designation of breast cancer or no breast cancer (18 had breast cancer).

Main Outcome Measures.  —Radiologists' diagnostic accuracy and directional changes in interpretations and recommendations between the 2 readings.

Results.  —The direction suggested by the history led to small but consistent changes in the interpretations. Overall diagnostic accuracy was not altered, but recommendations were affected for appropriate further diagnostic workup: an alerting history (eg, breast symptoms or family history of breast cancer) increased the number of workups recommended in patients without cancer (P=.01); and a nonalerting history led to fewer recommended workups in the cancer patients (P=.02). The direction of the sham histories led an average of 4 of the 10 radiologists to change previous diagnoses and an average of 1 radiologist to change a previous biopsy recommendation.

Conclusions.  —Knoweldge of the clinical history may alter a radiologist's level of diagnostic suspicion without improving performance in either diagnosis or management recommendations.