Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Relative contributions of history-taking, physical examination, and laboratory investigation to diagnosis and management of medical outpatients.

Br Med J 1975; 2 doi: (Published 31 May 1975) Cite this as: Br Med J 1975;2:486
  1. J R Hampton,
  2. M J Harrison,
  3. J R Mitchell,
  4. J S Prichard,
  5. C Seymour


    To evaluate the relative importance of the medical history, the physical examination, and laboratory investigations in the diagnosis and management of medical outpatients some physicians recorded their diagnosis and a prediction of the method of managementafter reading the patient's referral letter, again after taking the history, and againafter performing the physical examination. These diagnoses and predictions were compared with the diagnosis and method of management which had been adopted two months after the patient's initial attendance. A diagnosis that agreed with the one finally accepted was made after reading the referral letter and taking the history in 66 out of 80 new patients; the physical examination was useful in only seven patients, and the laboratory investigations in a further seven. In only one of six patients in whom the physician was unable to make any diagnosis after taking the history and examining the patient did laboratory investigations lead to a positive diagnosis.