Facial expressions can help emergency diagnosis

Study shows patients with serious cardiopulmonary disorders have a narrower range of facial expressions.

Doctor using rapid visual assessment of elderly patient

Emergency department staff regularly use rapid visual assessment, or “gestalt reasoning”, to decide whether patients need to undergo definitive, often costly and invasive testing.

A study published in the
Emergency Medicine Journal
(online, 14 July 2014) tested the validity of this approach by analysing facial expressions of 50 adult patients with breathing difficulties and chest pain.

When shown a visual stimulus, patients with serious cardiopulmonary disorders had a significantly narrower range of facial expressions than those without. The ability to express surprise had the greatest diagnostic value.

“[S]timulus-evoked facial expressions from emergency department patients with cardiopulmonary symptoms might be a useful component of gestalt pretest probability assessment,” the researchers conclude.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 26 July/2 August 2014, Vol 293, No 7820/1;293(7820/1):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20065851

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