Western Journal of Medicine
Peterson, M.C., Holbrook, J.H., Von Hales, D., Smith, N.L., Staker, L.V.
This article reports on an attempt to quantitate the relative contributions of the history, physical examination, and laboratory investigation in making medical diagnoses. In this prospective study of 80 medical outpatients with new or previously undiagnosed conditions, internists were asked to list their differential diagnoses and to estimate their confidence in each diagnostic possibility after the history, after the physical examination, and after the laboratory investigation. In 61 patients (76%), the history led to the final diagnosis. The physical examination led to the diagnosis in 10 patients (12%), and the laboratory investigation led to the diagnosis in 9 patients (11%). The internists' confidence in the correct diagnosis increased from 7.1 on a scale of 1 to 10 after the history to 8.2 after the physical examination and 9.3 after the laboratory investigation. These data support the concept that most diagnoses are made from the medical history. The results of physical examination and the laboratory investigation led to fewer diagnoses, but they were instrumental in excluding certain diagnostic possibilities and in increasing the physicians' confidence in their diagnoses.