Nowadays, many people’s lifestyle sees them move on to better pastures every few years. Staying in one place is no longer feasible for many. Although these moves usually come with benefits with a new job or lifestyle, problems can arise in the realm of healthcare.
Doctor visits are essential for keeping up with one’s health. The issue is many necessary tests done to evaluate health are subjective. A doctor interprets the results, and this interpretation can differ from doctor to doctor. A physician’s training limits this inter-doctor bias, but frequent physician changes can cause confusion if the variance builds.
A team from the PROFITH research group at the University of Granada in Spain wanted to identify if this was the case in heart rate variability tests. These tests are quick and can determine a patient’s heart health. A doctor must select and evaluate the best of the data. Any variance in selection parameters can cause confusion in a patient’s health history.
The study gathered a group of children, young adults, and middle-aged adults and conducted the heart rate variability test. Physicians then evaluated the results twice, with two months separating each evaluation. The goal was to identify both inter- and intra-physician variability.
The intra-physician variance test results showed little significant variation in the evaluation of any of the groups. The inter-physician variance was much higher and was substantial enough to be clinically relevant. The difference between evaluations also increased with the age of the patient.
Many health tests rely on some form of subjective evaluation by doctors. Proper training and standardization limits this inter-physician variance. The accumulation of such variation as you change from doctor to doctor may still cause problems. Therefore, it is suggested that patients stay with the same physician as much as possible, particularly when the same test must be done several times.
The team concludes their study, “Although the inter- and intra-researcher differences were not very large, the inter-researcher reproducibility could elicit some clinically relevant differences for some HRV parameters in time-domain. Based on our findings, we recommend that the HRV signal data processing should be performed by the same trained researcher to obtain more reproducible and consistent HRV parameters derived from short-term recordings.”