GP judgement is not enough to accurately diagnose pneumonia, according to one study.
Published online today by the European Respiratory Journal (24 January 2013), the study found that doctors only recognised pneumonia in less than a third of infected patients.
Researchers from universities across Europe looked at 2,810 patients who had an acute cough.
GPs were asked to judge whether a patient had pneumonia by their history and symptoms.
This was compared with a chest X-ray the same week, which revealed pneumonia in 140 patients.
The researchers, who looked at results from 12 European countries including England, noted that a chest X-ray is not “feasible” for every patient with a cough.
GPs were accurate when it came to excluding pneumonia but most cases confirmed by X-ray went undiagnosed, the study concluded.
Lead researcher Saskia van Vugt from the Netherlands said: “The findings are encouraging to some extent as they might support physicians to rely more on their ability to correctly exclude pneumonia which might result in better targeted antibiotic prescriptions.
The researcher from Utrecht Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care added: “Tests that could support a doctor’s ability to detect or exclude pneumonia are urgently needed.”
Patients who had pneumonia that the GPs had missed were shown to have less severe symptoms.