AIMS: To evaluate the accuracy of clinical diagnosis by specialists in geriatric medicine and to compare this with a previous study involving non-specialists. METHOD: Clinical and necropsy diagnoses from consecutive hospital inpatient deaths from the University Department of Geriatric Medicine were analysed for discrepancies at regular audit meetings. Three main categories of diagnosis were considered and any therapeutic implications discussed. RESULTS: Between 1987 and 1989 necropsies were performed on 100 patients (38 men, 62 women, aged 63 to 99 years) from a total of 207 deaths, a necropsy rate of 50%. There was complete agreement between necropsy and clinical diagnoses in 32% of cases. Disagreement involved the main diagnosis in 28%, contributory conditions in 32%, and cause of death in 34%. In 10% of cases the diagnostic discrepancy was considered therapeutically important. Specialist geriatricians correctly diagnosed the main diagnosis in 72% of cases; non-specialists in the previous study were correct in only 47% of cases. CONCLUSION: Specialist geriatricians diagnose elderly people more accurately than non-specialists. But rates of misdiagnosis are still significant and necropsies continue to be a useful form of audit.
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