Original Research

Generalist practitioners’ self-rating and competence in electrocardiogram interpretation in South Africa

Langalibalele H. Mabuza, Pindile S. Mntla
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 12, No 1 | a2421 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v12i1.2421 | © 2020 Langalibalele H. Mabuza, Pindile S. Mntla | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 March 2020 | Published: 24 August 2020

About the author(s)

Langalibalele H. Mabuza, Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, Faculty of Health Sciences, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria, South Africa
Pindile S. Mntla, Department of Cardiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria, South Africa

Share this article

Bookmark and Share


Background: Electrocardiogram (ECG) is the only practical, non-invasive method of recording and analysing cardiac abnormalities. It enables a primary healthcare (PHC) clinician to detect cardiac and non-cardiac abnormalities, some potentially life-threatening. Their early detection could save a patient’s life.

Aim: The aim of this study was to evaluate the competence of generalist practitioners in ECG interpretation.

Setting: This study was conducted at the Annual Refresher Course, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Pretoria.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted amongst 93 generalist practitioners, using a self-administered questionnaire containing 20 ECG tracings, commonly encountered in PHC. The tracings were categorised into primary ECG parameters, ECG emergencies and common ECG abnormalities. Competence was determined by the generalist practitioner’s number of correctly interpreted ECG tracings. Data associations were computed using the Fisher’s exact test. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.

Results: Correct heart rate calculation was achieved by 14/83 (16.9%), ECG rhythm by 7/83 (8.4%), acute antero-septal myocardial infarction (MI) by 29/83 (34.9%), atrial fibrillation by 19/83 (22.9%) and cute inferior MI by 22/83 (26.5%) generalist practitioners. No correlation was found between the practitioners’ number of years in practice and competence in ECG interpretation (p > 0.05). The total number of correct answers achieved by all practitioners was 274/1860 (14.7%).

Conclusion: The generalist practitioners had poor competency on ECG interpretation regardless of the number of years in practice. Their poor self-rating corresponded with the number of correct answers they provided. There is a need for continuous education in ECG interpretation.


generalist medical practitioners; competence; ECG interpretation; primary ECG parameters; ECG emergencies; common ECG abnormalities


Total abstract views: 444
Total article views: 321

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.