AMC Handbook of Clinical Assessment 9781875440382

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AMC Handbook of Clinical Assessment

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Table of Contents Foreword — Joanna M Flynn


Preface — Roger J Pepperell


Contributors Editorial Committee Additional Contributors




Introduction — Vernon C Marshall


Role of the Australian Medical Council (AMC) — Ian B Frank


Construction, Scoring and Validation of Assessments — Neil S Paget


The AMC Multidisciplinary Clinical Assessment Task (MCAT) Format — Heather G Alexander


How to Use this AMC Handbook of Annotated MCATs — Vernon C Marshall


MCAT Format Example: Candidate Information and Tasks, Performance Guidelines 001 A cut to the thumb of a 22-year-old man


MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks, MCAT Performance Guidelines; Five Principal Categories and Domains




• 1-A Communication, Counselling, and Patient Education — Introduction: Alan T Rose ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 002-021 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 002-021


DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 002 Advice on breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding for a 28-year-old pregnant woman 3 Advice on neonatal circumcision for a couple expecting their first child 4 Suspected hearing impairment in a 10-month-old child 5 Counselling a family after sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) 6 Hair loss in a 38-year-old man 7 An unusual feeling in the throat in a 30-year-old man 8 Pain in the testis following mumps in a 25-year-old man 9 Contraceptive advice for a 24-year-old woman 10 Rape of a 20-year-old woman 11 Cancer of the colon in a 60-year-old man 12 Thalassaemia minor in a 22-year-old woman

51-67 68-130 CIT




53 54 55 56 57 58 58 59 60 61

72 75 77 79 81 84 87 90 92 95



Pre-pregnancy advice to a 28-year-old woman with previous thromboembolism






Pre-pregnancy advice to a 24-year-old woman with Type 1 diabetes mellitus




An anencephalic fetus diagnosed at 18 weeks gestation in a 25-year-old primigravida




A duodenal ulcer found on endoscopy in a 65-year-old man




Advice on autologous blood transfusion to a 55-year-old man awaiting elective surgery



65 66 67 67

115 121 125 129


Advice on stopping smoking to a 30-year-old man


Excessive alcohol consumption in a 45-year-old man


Type 1 diabetes mellitus in a 9-year-old boy


Request for vasectomy from a 36-year-old man

1-B Case presentations and summaries to Examiner — Introduction: Vernon C Marshall


DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 022-029 Headache, neck lump, previous shoulder dislocation, dysphagia, low back pain, knee pain, abdominal discomfort, gastric ulcer with haemorrhage




2-A The Diagnostic Process — History-taking and Problem-Solving — Introduction: Reuben D Glass ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 030-043 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 030-043 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 30

Jaundice in a breastfed infant


A convulsion in a 14-month-old boy


Loud and disruptive behaviour of a 6-year-old boy


Tremor in a 40-year-old man


Headache in a 35-year-old woman


Lethargy in a 50-year-old woman


Syncope in a 52-year-old man


A painful penile rash in a 23-year-old man


Primary amenorrhoea in an 18-year-old woman


A skin lesion on the cheek of a 50-year-old man


A pigmented mole on the trunk of a 30-year-old woman


An itchy rash on the hands of a 19-year-old woman


Red painful dry hands in a 30-year-old bricklayer


Swelling of both ankles in a 53-year-old woman

137 142 -154 155 -195 143 144 144 145 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154

156 159 161 164 167 170 173 177 180 182 184 186 189 191


CIT • 2-B Physical Examination — Introduction: Vernon C Marshall and Barry P McGrath ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 044-057


~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 044-057 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 044 Assessment of a comatose patient 045 Recent onset of poor distance vision in a 17-year-old male 046 A painful rash on the trunk of a 45-year-old child-care worker 047 Acute low back pain and sciatica in a 30-year-old man 048 Fever and a recent rash in a 30-year-old man 049 A heart murmur in a 4-year-old boy 050 A knife wound to the wrist of a 25-year-old man 051 Multiple skin lesions in a Queensland family 052 Subcutaneous swelling for assessment 053 Examination of the knee of a patient with recurrent painful swelling after injury 054 Assessment of hearing loss, first noted during pregnancy in a 35-year-old woman 055 Examination of a 20-year-old woman who dislocated her shoulder 6 months ago 056 Assessment of a groin lump in a 40-year-old man 057 Eye problems in an aboriginal community • 2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations — Introduction: Reuben D Glass and Vernon C Marshall ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 058-064 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 058-064 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 058 Positive test for hepatitis C in a 26-year-old woman 059 Diagnosis of 'brain death' prior to organ donation 060 Breast biopsy concerns in a 20-year-old woman with a family history of breast cancer 061 An elbow injury in an 11-year-old schoolgirl 062 Sudden onset of chest pain and breathlessness in a 20-year-old woman 063 Atypical ureteric colic in a 25-year-old man 064 Investigation for male factor infertility in a 25-year-old man


PG 196 -23 3 -29 6

219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 228

235 241 246 248 252 255 257 264 274





231 232 233

286 289 293 297 312- 319 320- 342

313 314

321 325

315 316

329 331

317 318 319

334 337 340


CIT 2-D The General Consultation — Introduction: Barry P McGrath ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 065-073 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 065-073 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 065 Acute chest pain in a 60-year-old man 066 Palpitations and dizziness in a 50-year-old man 067 Muscle weakness and urinary symptoms in a 60-year-old man 068 Aches and pains in a 62-year-old man 069 Lack of energy in a 56-year-old suntanned man 070 Recent haematemesis in a 50-year-old man 071 Anaemia in a 28-year-old pregnant woman 072 Acute vertigo in a 50-year-old man 073 Urinary frequency in a 60-year-old man 2-E The Paediatric Consultation

PG 343

347-354 355-396

348 349 350 351 352 352 353 353 354

356 363 368 371 374 377 380 383 394 397

— Introduction: Peter J Vine ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 074-077 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 074-077

401-403 404-416


Neonatal jaundice in the first day of life




Immunisation advice to the parent of a 6-week-old baby




Dark urine, facial swelling and irritability in a 5-year-old boy




Fever and sore throat in a 5-year-old boy



2-F The Obstetric and Gynaecologic Consultation — Introduction: Roger J Pepperell ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 078-082 — MCAT Performance Guidelines 078-082

417 419-422 423-435


Breech presentation in labour at 38 weeks in a 25-year-old woman


Vaginal bleeding in a 23-year-old woman




Cessation of periods in a 30-year-old woman on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP)







081 Positive culture for Group B streptococci (GBS) at 36 weeks of gestation in a 26-year-old woman 082 Vaginal bleeding after 8 weeks amenorrhoea, in a woman with previous irregular cycles 2-G The Psychiatric Consultation — Introduction: Frank P Hume ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 083-089 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 083-089




436 446-454 455-481



schizophrenia 084 Demand for urgent treatment for 'sudden hair loss' from a



29-year-old man 085 Poor work performance in a 30-year-old female police officer 086 Lifestyle stress in a 45-year-old man 087 Binge drinking in a 25-year-old man 088 Nausea, headache and feeling 'jittery' in a 30-year-old bank clerk 089 Collapse of a 30-year-old woman on the way to a court attendance

448 449 450 452 453 454

459 463 466 470 474 478 483

DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 083 Medication changes for a 35-year-old woman with chronic

3 CLINICAL MANAGEMENT (M) • 3-A Management Objectives, Therapeutics, Prevention and Public Health — Introduction: Alan T Rose, Michael R Kidd and Ronald McCoy ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 090-100 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 090-100 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS

483 489499-

-498 -536

090 Acute right sided pain and haematuria in a 25-year-old man 091 Faecal soiling in a 5-year-old boy 092 Psoriasis in a 30-year-old man 093 Temporal arteritis in a 58-year-old woman 094 Acute idiopathic facial nerve palsy ('Bell Palsy') in a

490 491 492 493

500 503 507 510

40-year-old man 095 Dysuria and urinary frequency in a 40-year-old man 096 Eclampsia in a 22-year-old primigravida at 38 weeks of gestation 097 An abnormal glucose tolerance test (GTT) in a 34-year-old

494 495 496

512 519 522

primigravida 098 Bed-wetting by a 5-year-old boy 099 Acute gout in a 48-year-old man 100 Request for repeat benzodiazepine prescription from a

496 497 497

525 528 531

25-year-old man • 3-B Clinical Procedures


534 537


-547 -563

101 Resuscitation of a 24-year-old man after head and chest injury 102 Fluid balance assessment in a 50-year-old patient after



abdominal surgery 103 Evaluation of lung function by spirometry in a 22-year-old man 104 A suspected fractured clavicle in a 20-year-old man

545 546 547

551 558 561

— Introduction: Peter G Devitt and Barry P McGrath ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 101-104 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 101-104 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS






4-A Clinical Perspective and Priorities


— Introduction: Bryan W Yeo ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 105-112 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 105-112 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS

570 578

-577 -600

105 Abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding after 9 weeks amenorrhoea, in a 39-year-old woman 106 Recent insomnia in a 25-year-old man 107 Dandruff or head lice in a 6-year-old girl? 108 Recent orchidectomy for a testicular neoplasm in a

571 572 573

579 582 585

28-year-old man 109 Postnatal fatigue and exhaustion in a 28-year-old woman 110 Fundus greater than dates in a 26-year-old woman at

574 575

587 589

30 weeks gestation 111 Tiredness and anaemia in a 55-year-old woman 112 Colonoscopy findings in a 24-year-old man with chronic diarrhoea 4-B Life-threatening Emergencies — Priorities of Treatment

575 576 577

593 596 599 601

— Introduction: Bryan W Yeo ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks 113-118 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 113-118 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS 113 A severely ill 4-month-old baby girl with fever 114 A lethargic febrile 2-year-old boy with a rash 115 Wheezing and breathing difficulty in a 5-year-old girl 116 Cuts to the wrist of a 25-year-old man 117 Severe postpartum haemorrhage in a 25-year-old primigravida 118 Emergency management of a snake-bite in a 20-year-old man

602- 608 609- 627 603 604 605 606 607 608


610 612 614 618 622 625 628

5-A Ethical and Legal Dilemmas


— Introduction: Kerry J Breen ~ MCAT Candidate Information and TasKS 119-124 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines 119-124 DETAILS OF MCAT SCENARIOS


639 659

119 A man requesting disclosure of his wife's medical condition 120 Obtaining consent for leg amputation in a 35-year-old man after



a motor vehicle injury 121 Several bone fractures in a 9-week-old baby

635 636

644 647










655 661

• Preparatory Instructions


122 A parent requesting sterilisation of her intellectually disabled daughter 123 Blood transfusion consent for a 33-year-old pregnant woman with severe APH at 7 months 124 End-of-life request from a terminally ill patient

— Roger J Pepperell 16 Station Trial Assessment ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks T1-T16 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines T1-T16 DETAILS OF MCAT TRIAL ASSESSMENTS 125

126 127 128 129 130 131 132



[T2] [T3] [T4] [T5] [T6] [T7] [T8]


664 -678 679 -730

Meconium staining of liquor in labour in a 25-year-old primigravida



A heart murmur in a 5-year-old girl Vigorous vomiting by a 3-week-old boy Urinary incontinence in a 50-year-old woman Migraine in a 30-year-old woman Past history of hip dislocation in a 35-year-old man Tiredness in a 45-year-old man Review of lung function tests in a 65-year-old man with

666 667 668 668 669 670

683 685 688 691 694 696

shortness of breath



Assessment of a 28-year-old primigravida at 34 weeks with fundus less than dates



Delirium in a 25-year-old man after a burn injury Chronic diarrhoea in a 45-year-old man Fever, irritability and ear discharge in a 2-year-old boy Review of cytology after aspiration of a breast lesion in a

672 673 674

708 712 716

134 135 136 137

[T10] [T11] [T12] [T13]

138 139 140

[T14] Nocturnal hand discomfort in a 35-year-old schoolteacher [T15] An attack of asthma in a 25-year-old man [T16] Preparing a 30-year-old woman with suspected acute

28-year-old woman

appendicitis for surgery



677 677

721 724



8 Station Trial Retest Assessment ~ MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks R1-R8 ~ MCAT Performance Guidelines R1-R8 DETAILS OF MCAT TRIAL RETEST ASSESSMENTS 141 142 143

[R1] [R2] [R3]

Intravenous cannula insertion for antibiotic prophylaxis Heartburn in a 35-year-old man Spontaneous bruising and nosebleed in a 3-year-old boy

732 740

-739 -765

733 734 735

741 744 748




144 [R4] Nausea and vomiting in the first trimester in a 25-year-old primigravida 145 [R5] Visual difficulties in a 50-year-old man 146 [R6] Cognitive state assessment of a 50-year-old barman 147 [R7] Jaundice in a 25-year-old man 148 [R8] Assessment of prominent leg veins in a 38-year-old woman INTERACTIVE CLINICAL ASSESSMENT — OTHER METHODS AND OSCE MODIFICATIONS — Peter G Devitt and Heather G Alexander



736 737 738 739

753 756 760 763 767

149 Confusion and delirium after surgery in a 50-year-old man 150 Postoperative fever in a 45-year-old woman 151 The 4 station progressive OSCE

771 771



776 779 781



APPENDICES 1. AMC Objectives of Medical Education


2. AMC Instructions to Standardised Patients and Clinical Examiners 3. MCC/AMC Clinical Task Categories; AMC Function/Process;

806 810

System/Region/Speciality; and Discipline classification MCATs with full Domain listing and AMC Anthology Reference


MCATs by Discipline (Condition and page listings only)


MCATs by System/Region/Speciality (Condition and page listings only)


MCATs by Function/Process (Condition and page listings only)


Suggested Additional Groupings of MCATs for self-test trial assessments


Guidelines for further reading







The AMC Multidisciplinary Clinical Assessment Task (MCAT) Format Heather G Alexander The student is to collect and evaluate facts. The facts are locked up in the patient. To the patient, therefore, the student must go.' Abraham Flexner (1866-1959) Medical Education, a Comparative Study The MCAT is an integrated OSCE-style clinical examination where each candidate proceeds through the same number of stations — 16 stations in the full exam, 8 stations in the retest. CONTENT OF STATIONS At each station, two minutes are allocated for preliminary reading outside the room. An instruction sheet giving the candidate specific information and tasks required is provided. This introduces the candidate to the consultation setting and clinical situation. It may also include patient profile test results or an illustration. Specific tasks that the candidate will be asked to perform are itemised. A duplicate copy of the instructions is provided in the examination room. This is followed by eight minutes performing the required task in a room The aims of the with a standardised patient. When the candidate first enters the room, the station, the tasks observing examiner will check that the instructions for the station have that candidates are been read and will then introduce the candidate to the patient. The asked to perform, examiner will then observe the performance and record the the key issues and candidate's performance on a tailored mark sheet. The standardised assessment patient may be a real patient or a simulated patient (role player) who domains defined plays the role of either the patient or a relative. Doctor-patient for the station are communication performance contributes to the assessment and requires all closely aligned. a well-trained role player. Where scenarios are based on physical examination, the 'role player' may be a real patient.

FIGUREIII. History-taking

FIGURE iv. Commencing the Physical Examination

The aims of the station, the tasks that candidates are asked to perform, the key issues and assessment domains defined for the station are all closely aligned.


The MCAT scenarios developed for assessment purposes are designed to simulate closely real life situations within medical consultations. These may be in a general practice setting, a hospital emergency department, or a hospital inpatient or outpatient setting. Scenarios deal with different phases of illnesses. Diagnostic scenarios include the diagnostic phases of history taking, physical examination, and ordering and interpreting investigations. The management phases incorporate patient explanation and education, advice and referral, therapeutics and preventive medicine, clinical procedures and counselling. Scenarios are focused precisely so that the assessment domains, key issues and critical errors are accurately related to the station aims and the tasks set down in the candidate's instructions. Members of the AMC clinical examination panel suggest MCAT clinical scenarios based on their prevalence, seriousness, preventability and whether they can be simulated as real life situations within the inherent time constraints. Scenarios are thoroughly reviewed and approved by the multidisciplinary clinical panel prior to use. The current 16 or 8 station MCAT formats cover a broad spectrum of skills in clinical medicine, psychiatry, surgery, obstetrics/gynaecology, and paediatrics, including emergency, hospital and community practice medicine. MCAT MARKING In an MCAT, candidates are assessed at the level of a final year medical student, i.e. a doctor about to commence an intern year (PGY1). Mark sheets for examiner use. The examiner scores the candidate's performance on a mark sheet which specifies the assessment domains, key domains, and critical errors if appropriate. The assessment domains match the tasks outlined on the instructions the candidates receive during the two minutes preliminary reading. The marking domains are identified from among a total of 14 covering: • approach to patient and responses to patient's questions; • patient counselling and education; • history-taking; • physical examination choice and technique; • physical examination accuracy; • choice of investigations; • interpretation of investigations; • diagnosis and differential diagnosis; • initial management plan; • explanation of clinical procedure; • performance of clinical procedure; • familiarity with test equipment; • commentary to examiner; and • answers to examiner's questions, No single station is likely to have assessment in more than five of these domains. Each domain has a 4-point marking scale: • Very satisfactory Clear pass • Satisfactory Pass • Unsatisfactory Fail • Very unsatisfactory Clear fail


An example mark sheet is included later with the example MCAT 001. (see page 44) Critical errors are defined and derived from one or more of the key issues, when relevant. Not all stations have critical errors. If the candidate makes a critical error the candidate is very likely to fail that station, regardless of performance in other domains, unless performance in other domains is outstanding and the critical error is deemed possibly related to lack of time or misunderstanding of the task. MCAT performance is checked and reviewed by the Clinical Panel of Examiners after each use in an examination. All details, particularly presence and definition of critical errors, are reassessed and retained or modified in light of candidate performance and examiner feedback. Station failure would probably result from two or more 'unsatisfactory — fail' assessments or one 'very unsatisfactory — fail' assessment in a key issue domain, or from making a critical error in a key issue domain. After scoring each of the domains, the examiner will provide an overall (final) rating that is either 'Pass' or 'Fail' for each station. All 16 MCAT scenarios are of equal weighting and for each scenario there are only two outcomes — pass or fail. Candidates must obtain a pass in 12 or more of the 16 stations, including a pass in at least one paediatric and one obstetric/gynaecology station, to pass the MCAT as a whole. Candidates scoring pass levels in nine or less of the 16 stations, or with failures in all three of the paediatric or obstetric/gynaecology stations, fail the examination and must resit. Candidates who pass 10 or 11 of the 16 stations (including a pass in at least one obstetric/ gynaecology station and one paediatric station) will be eligible for a pass/fail Retest Examination of 8 stations. Retest candidates will be required to pass six or more of the eight retest stations to pass the examination. Candidates scoring five or less passes will fail and be required to resit the whole examination. Heather G Alexander July 2007


How to use this AMC Handbook of Annotated MCATs Vernon C Marshall 'In what may be called the natural method of teaching the student begins with the patient, continues with the patient, and ends his studies with the patient, using books and lectures as tools, as means to an end.' Sir William Osier (1849-1919) The MCAT self-test scenarios are arranged in groups under the principal categories and domains tested. In each instance the reader is provided with a synopsis heading, outlining the clinical problem/condition together with the information available to the candidate and details of the task to be undertaken, exactly as this appears in the MCAT examination. INSTRUCTIONS TO CANDIDATES You may wish to attempt to complete the tasks in each of the major categories before moving to the next group. If you would prefer to review tasks by system and region, or by discipline, the appropriate groupings of these are listed in later pages. Page numbers of individual MCATs are listed in the table of contents at the beginning of the book for easy reference. After reading carefully the information provided to you for each clinical scenario and the required tasks, jot down how you will approach this consultation, how you will advise the patient or relative of your findings and recommendations, and how you would structure responses to queries from patient or examiner. Then turn the pages to check your responses against the optimum Performance Guidelines, Examiner Instructions and Commentaries. Note the station Aims, Key issues and Critical Errors outlined. In this book the scenarios are grouped into five main categories. The groupings are to some degree artificial in that communication skills are relevant to all scenarios. For example, aspects of diagnosis, management, and patient counselling and education are frequently combined to varying degree, but the groupings are arranged to emphasise and categorise the principal domains even though most scenarios are assessed over multiple domains. The five groupings below condense the total of 14 domain assessments into five categories covering skills principally in: 1. Clinical Communication (C) — with patient, relative and observer, and including a number of domains: approach to patient, patient counselling/education, history-taking, commentary to examiner, answers to patient's or examiner's questions, explanation of procedure, case presentation and summary. 2. Clinical Diagnosis (D) — includes history-taking, technique and accuracy of physical examination, choice of investigations and their interpretation, diagnosis/differential diagnosis. 3. Clinical Management (M) — includes initial management plan, performance of procedure/task, treatment and prevention of disease, clinical procedures. 4. Integrated Diagnosis and Management (D/M) — includes clinical perspectives and priorities, life-threatening emergencies, integrative reasoning skills and clinical problem-solving. 5. Legal, Ethical and Organisational (LEO) — includes scenarios where ethical and legal issues are significant.


INTRODUCTORY GUIDELINES for candidates (see Table below) The MCAT self-test are provided at the start of each of the main categories and their scenarios are arranged domains. in groups under the After completing individual case scenarios you may find it helpful to principal categories revise your knowledge of similar and linked conditions by referring and domains tested. In to appropriate clinical texts and references. The AMC Anthology of each instance the Medical Conditions contains other self-test strategies for individual reader is provided with conditions. a synopsis heading, Try making up your own variations on the conditions tested, and outlining the clinical practise role playing and interactions with a colleague or in a group. problem/condition Once you are familiar with the mechanics and time constraints, together with the pace yourself through the trial examinations (one containing 16 information available to stations and one containing 8 multi-disciplinary stations), and the the candidate and other suggested groupings provided later in the book, under details of the task to be undertaken, exactly as simulated examination conditions. this appears in the The Editorial Committee hopes you find the examples helpful and MCAT examination. extends its good wishes for a successful assessment. SCENARIO HEADINGS FOLLOWED IN THE AMC HANDBOOK OF CLINICAL ASSESSMENT The MCAT scenarios and performance guidelines are set out in a standardised sequence as follows. Groups of self-test candidate information and tasks are arranged under principal categories and domains tested. Table 3 MCAT Introductory Guideline Scenario Headings CONDITION AND ID NUMBER

A generic and non-diagnostic summary of the presenting symptom, physical sign or investigation result in diagnostic-type cases, such as: • Assessment of acute abdominal pain in a 30-year-old woman. • Assessment of a vesicular rash in a 50-year-old man. • Review of liver function test results in a 50-year-old man with jaundice. The diagnosis or most likely diagnosis in management/counselling-type cases, such as: • Management of shingles ('herpes zoster') in a 25-year-old woman. • Counselling the relative of a patient after recent major surgery.


Under this heading the background information and tasks are given precisely as they appear in the MCAT examination. Page references to the matching Performance Guidelines are given at the foot of each Candidate Information and Tasks sheet.


Lists requested tasks for candidates.


Performance guidelines follow in similar category and domain groups linked to the preceding scenarios by ID number and page reference. PERFORMANCE GUIDELINES CONDITION AND ID NUMBER

Principal category and assessment domains in detail; and classitication by function, system/region and discipline (see Appendix 3) are listed for each station just prior to the index. AMC Anthology of Medical Conditions reference is listed to aid further self-testing. The MCC/AMC Clinical Task Category is also listed. AIMS OF STATION

A brief outline of station and assessment aims, matching the tasks. The expected responses and levels of performance required to complete the tasks successfully are outlined in the examiner instructions and commentaries.


These provide the following: Instructions from examiner to standardised patient Candidate information and tasks and role player instructions are detailed and provided to examiners and standardised patients so that there is standardised behaviour across multiple patients. Cues assist in directing the consultation pathway. The instructions are set out using lay terminology to maintain realism, and outline: • Clinical setting — hospital emergency department, hospital ward or outpatient department, primary care facility, community practice office consultation. • Clinical situation — description of illness and symptoms and phase of the consultation. • Patient profile — age and gender, past history, family history, habitus, as relevant to the case. • Opening statement — one sentence provided as the patient's opening gambit. • How to play the role — advice on further responses, posture, gestures, affect, mood and ways to react to the doctor, including where the task is a physical examination. Questions to be asked by patient/role player — set down in a loose priority and which will depend on whether these have already been covered by the doctor/candidate. Any examiner questions or prompts to the candidate are also outlined, with the required responses.


These are clarified for the examiner and match the tasks and the domains.


These are selected from the assessment domains and expectations of candidate performance for each case and highlighted accordingly.


These list significant errors likely to lead to a fail performance.


This discusses and comments further on the condition, highlighting performance standards and common errors.


EXAMPLE CASE SCENARIO: The following case scenario exemplifies the formatting for a combined Diagnosis and Management MCAT.


Sample - Condition 001 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 001 A cut to the thumb of a 22-year-old man You are the Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) in a hospital Emergency Department. The patient injured his left thumb at work an hour ago. He is aged 22 years and works as an orchard labourer and fruit picker. He is right handed. He was pruning fruit trees today and the pruning knife slipped and he cut his left thumb. He was wearing cotton gloves. The knife cut through the glove and cut the thumb as shown in the illustration below. Bleeding was minor and controlled by a pressure dressing, which has been removed for examination. The wound appears as a linear knife cut as shown, the edges of which have sealed after the initial bleeding which has now stopped. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Examine him and assess the injury. • Explain to him the nature of the injury and your recommended management. You may ask other questions of the patient as you proceed with the examination and explanation. Near the end of the eight-minute time allotted for your task, the examiner will ask you one or two questions.

CONDITION 001. FIGURE 1. Knife wound to the left thumb

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 001 can be found on page 40


Sample-Condition 001 Candidate Information and Tasks

CANDIDATE ADVICE You should: Prepare and document your responses and how you would approach this task. Test yourself thoroughly after reading the MCAT Candidate Information and Tasks, before proceeding to read the performance guidelines, examiner and patient instructions and commentary which you will find on subsequent pages. Follow a similar process for the other MCATs. The best way to develop proficiency in an MCAT assessment is to work in pairs or as a group. Your colleague reads the performance guidelines and plays the patient/relative, while you read the candidate information and perform the tasks, while another group member takes the role of examiner/observer. SUMMARY OF STUDY TASKS Read the candidate information and task(s), preferably working with a colleague or group. Formulate and document a logical approach for responding to and solving the consultative problem given. Then read the performance guidelines that follow, and note the aims of the station, expectations of your knowledge and performance, key issues and critical errors and other points raised in the commentary. Check for any deficiencies in your performance. Reread the introductions to the section in which the MCAT appears. For this MCAT about a thumb wound, revise your knowledge of applied surface anatomy relevant to wounds giving risk to underlying structures and how you should check for local and distal effects of injury. Construct alternative scenarios for other wounds and self-test yourself on these (for example, injuries to radial nerve in the arm, common peroneal nerve in the leg). Revise the Anthology scenarios 113, 113H, 113J and 113K and complete the self-test exercises. Reinforce your understanding of the condition by completing other self-assessment tasks (for example from the AMC Anthology of Medical Conditions) and construct at least one other related task for solving. Finally, one complete MCAT 16 station assessment and one complete MCAT eight station assessment are provided later in the book as examples of whole examinations for trial.


Sample-Condition 001 Candidate Information and Tasks

Additional groupings of MCATs into further self-test trial examinations are also suggested at the end of the book. MCATs are also grouped into one of the principal disciplines of medicine, obstetrics/gynaecology, paediatrics, psychiatry, surgery if you wish to use the book in this way. MCATs are similarly grouped into the relevant function and process and into system/region/specialty. For these latter groups, MCATs are often listed more than once when they cover more than one system or function. Pace and test yourself through these. Keep practising within a group of your peers until fully familiar with the routine. We hope that you will find the self-discipline and requirements to adhere to logical clinical reasoning pathways in approaching the wide range of clinical problems selected for this book will stand you in good stead, not just for assessment examinations, but throughout your subsequent career. Vernon C Marshall


Sample - Condition 001


EXAMPLE: Performance Guidelines

Condition 001 A cut to the thumb of a 22-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to use clinical reasoning skills to diagnose and manage important injuries associated with skin wounds. In this instance, the knife cut has severed the two extensor tendons to the thumb. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: The examiner will draw the linear cut with a red marking pen on the role-playing patient, and show the patient how to respond to requests to bend his thumb and testing of sensation as follows: • You have not yet noticed and should not volunteer any information about limitation of thumb movement, until specifically asked to extend each of the two end joints, which you are unable to do. Sensation is normal. • You had a tetanus booster shot about a year ago for a leg graze and were immunised against tetanus as a child. Opening statement: • 'Will it be okay for me to go back to work tomorrow with a dressing over it now it's stopped bleeding, Doc?' Other questions to ask: • If the candidate/doctor diagnoses tendon injury with normal sensation, you will accept the recommendations for operation, and should ask about the operation 'Will I need an anaesthetic?' (Appropriate answer — Yes: regional block or general anaesthesia). • If no mention of a tetanus prophylaxis or antibiotics is made during the interview you will subsequently ask 'Will I need another tetanus shot?' (A booster dose of toxoid would be appropriate). Examiner's questions to candidate: • At the end of 6-7 minutes, if the candidate has identified that a tendon injury has occurred, the examiner should ask: 'What are the names of the injured tendons?' (Extensor pollicis longus [EPL] and extensor pollicis brevis [EPB]) and


Sample - Condition 001 Performance Guidelines

'Which joint does each tendon act upon?' (Interphalangeal [IP] and metacarpophalangeal [MP] joint respectively). If no tendon injury has been identified just ask: 'If antibiotics are to be given, what would you choose?' (Broad spectrum cover such as one dose of amoxycillin, cephalosporin or other antibiotic). EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Cuts and stabs of various types commonly present to emergency departments. Attending doctors must be aware of the anatomy of deeper structures at risk from injuries at specific sites and the methods of diagnosing such injuries. Diagnosis of injury to the two main long thumb tendons and recognition of the treatment requirements for primary surgical repair in this 'tidy' (clean contaminated) wound. Explanation of treatment would optimally advise preparation for early surgery using local (field) block or general anaesthesia. Antibiotic and tetanus prophylaxis would be appropriate. KEY ISSUES Ability to identify deeper tendon injuries resulting from stabs or cuts. Failure to appreciate that the whole thumb extensor mechanism (involving two tendons) has been damaged would comprise a fail (unsatisfactory) in the domains of examination technique and diagnosis. Failure to name the tendons correctly would not necessarily be a fail performance, providing the presence of tendon injury was diagnosed and appropriate advice given in other areas. Failure to mention antibiotic or tetanus prophylaxis would be unsatisfactory, but would not be considered a critical error in the presence of a 'tidy' recent wound; such omission would most likely be corrected with subsequent specialist referral for surgery and anaesthesia. CRITICAL ERROR Failure to test and identify the injury to the extensor tendons would comprise a clear and irremediable fail for this station at a very unsatisfactory level.


Sample - Condition 001 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY The knife cut has severed the two extensor tendons to the left thumb {extensor pollicis brew's and extensor pollicis longus, from radial to ulnar side). These tendons form the margins of the anatomical snuff box as illustrated. The tendons have been severed at the knuckle level of the metacarpophalangeal joint. The patient has no obvious thumb deformity but is unable actively to extend either the metacarpophalangeal (MP) joint or the interphalangeal (IP) joint of the thumb. The digital cutaneous nerves have not been cut and distal sensation is normal apart from tenderness around the cut. Extension of the joints of the thumb occurs from the actions of: • Extensor pollicis longus (EPL) the ulnar-sided of the two thumb tendons running on the dorsal aspect of the thumb. The long tendon of EPL runs obliquely across the back of the hand after angulating around the tubercle of the radius (Lister tubercle) before inserting into the base of the distal phalanx. EPL is the prime mover and sole extensor of the terminal (interphalangeal) joint. By passing across the metacarpophalangeal (MP) and carpometacarpal (CM) joints of the thumb. EPL can also act as an accessory extensor of these joints. EPL, like other superficial tendons, may be injured by cuts and penetrating injuries. • Extensor pollicis brevis (EPB) is the lateral of the two thumb extensors. EPB runs in the same synovial sheath as the tendon of abductor pollicis longus on the lateral surface of the radius and continues over the dorsal shaft of the metacarpal to insert into the base of the proximal phalanx. EPB is the prime mover in extension of the MP joint and an accessory extensor of the CM joint. Cuts around the knuckle of the metacarpophalangeal joint are likely to sever one or both tendons. In this patient, both EPL and EPB have been severed. • Abductor pollicis longus (APL). This stout tendon, often multiple or ridged like a stalk of celery, inserts dorsolateral^ into the base of the thumb metacarpal. APL is the prime mover of radial abduction and extension of the thumb at the carpometacarpal joint, separating the thumb from the other digits in the plane of the palm. In this patient, radial abduction will be unaffected as APL has not been injured.


Sample - Condition 001 Performance Guidelines

CONDITION 001. FIGURE 2. Normal Anatomy — Left hand and thumb The Examiner mark sheet for MCAT 001 follows.


Candidate ID card sighted

Very Satisfactory - PASS

Satisfactory - PASS


Covers all essential

Minor technical

Choice & Technique of Examination, Organisation and Sequence Did the candidate carry out an appropriate focused and relevant examination as per examiner instructions?

aspects competently - minimal errors or omissions.


Identified most or

Accuracy of Examination Did the candidate identify the physical findings accurately as per examiner instructions?

all findings accurately.


Covered all essential

Diagnosis/Differential Diagnosis Did the candidate formulate and describe an appropriate diagnosis/ differential diagnosis as per examiner instructions?

aspects competently - minimal or no errors or omissions. Logical, clear, well organised.


Covered all essential

Initial Management Plan Did the candidate formulate and describe an appropriate initial management plan as per examiner instructions?

aspects competently - minimal errors or omissions. Optimal management plan.

Answers to Questions

Covered all aspects

Answers to questions asked by examiner?

completely, minimal errors or omissions.


□ □ □ □ □

faults but examination completed reasonably.

□ □

Minor errors in findings.

Minor omissions

or errors in explanations of findings. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis appropriate to the case even if not completely accurate. Minor errors but did not interfere with an adequate initial management plan.

Minor errors in answers to questions.


Unsatisfactory - FAIL

Very Unsatisfactory - FAIL

Candidate displays

Serious errors or omissions in technique.

one or more of the following: - significant omissions - significant errors of technique - poor technique One or more significant errors in findings.

Significant errors in


Significant errors



5 mm) irregular moles, such as this patient exhibits, appearing usually on the trunks of young adults. • Lesions with irregular, ill-defined borders, irregular pigmentation, background redness, variable colours — brown, black, tan, pink. • Most are stable and do not lead to melanoma, but excision is indicated if any diagnostic concerns. Dysplastic naevus syndrome is diagnosed because of the presence of multiple, large, irregular pigmented naevi, mainly on the trunk. It is important to exclude malignant melanoma Signs indicative of possible malignant melanoma include: • any change in size of a presenting lesion (lateral spread or thickening); • change in shape; • change in colour (brown, blue, black, red, white and combinations of these colours); • change in surface; • change in the border; • bleeding or ulceration; and • other symptoms (itching). Development of satellite nodules and lymph node involvement are late signs. Differential diagnosis of pigmented skin lesions includes: • haemangioma (thrombosed); • dermatofibroma (sclerosing haemangioma); • pigmented seborrhoeic keratosis; • pigmented basal cell carcinoma; • junctional and compound benign melanocytic naevi; • blue naevi; • dysplastic naevi; and • lentigines. Management: • In this case, the solitary dysplastic naevus may have no significant malignant potential at this stage. However, because of the size of the lesion and the patient's concern, this lesion should be excised. • Suspicious pigmented lesions should have complete excisional biopsy, and not be treated by cryotherapy.


041 Performance Guidelines

Condition 041 An itchy rash on the hands of a 19-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION

To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose, confirm and treat scabies, and to prevent recurrence.

Examiner Instructions: The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Opening statement

'I want to get rid of this rash on my hands. ' •

Follow with 'It started about a week ago and I can t stop scratching my hands

because of the itch. ' •

In response to questions the doctor may ask: ~ You have not had anything like this before, ~ No rash or itchiness elsewhere on your body. ~ The itch is intense and made worse by warming your hands, as when washing up in hot water or bathing or showering. ~ The itch is worst at night and interferes with sleep. ~ Your hands have not been in contact with any irritants, chemicals or plants. ~ Your general health is excellent. ~ No past history of any serious illness. ~ No known allergies. ~ No history of mental or behavioural disturbance. ~ No recent travel away from home. ~ No medication except oral contraception. ~ Your boyfriend with whom you are sexually active has had a similar rash though not as bad and he has not sought medical advice about it.

Scratch and rub the backs of your knuckles and between the bases of your fingers. Answer the doctor's questions in a straightforward manner including about the relationship with your boyfriend. Do not reveal this spontaneously. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE •

• •

Approach to patient. Display interest and intention to deal effectively with the condition. Be nonjudgmental about possible sexual transmission of scabies from boyfriend. Provide reassurance that condition is simply cured and not serious. Compliance with the whole of the treatment regimen should be obtained. History. Identify site and severity of itch and question about sexual activity after other possible sources have been excluded. Confirmation of diagnosis. The candidate may diagnose scabies from illustration and history as given above, but should advise the patient that diagnosis must be confirmed by taking skin scrapings from the lesions for microscopy.


041 Performance Guidelines

Examiner should intervene at this point by stating 'Please assume that the skin scrapings are positive for scabies, and advise the patient accordingly. ' The examiner should only state this if the candidate has mentioned the need for skin scrapings to diagnose scabies. •

Patient education and counselling. In this case, the condition is transmitted by close contact during sexual activity. Description of the scabies mite is expected with reassurance that the condition is not serious, although very uncomfortable, and is readily treatable. Patient should advise boyfriend to seek medical advice.

Management. ~ Application of permethrin cream or lotion 5% (Lyclear®) or benzyl benzoate emulsion 25% (Ascabiol®) to entire body from jawline down including nails, flexures and genitals. Leave permethrin cream or lotion overnight then wash off thoroughly, but benzyl benzoate lotion should be left on for 24 hours. ~ Avoid hot baths or scrubbing before application ~ Treat household contacts even if nonsymptomatic ~ Wash clothing and bed clothes in hot water and expose to sun to dry ~ Repeat treatment in one week if infestation is considered to be severe ~ Avoid intimate contact with boyfriend until he has also been properly treated

Key Issues • Approach to patient — Ability to establish satisfactory relationship with patient to achieve compliance and cooperation of patient to get boyfriend to seek treatment. • History — Ability to take an appropriate history including site and severity of pruritus and sexual partner as source of infection. • Diagnosis — Should advise microscopy of skin scrapings to facilitate diagnosis. • Management — Provide adequate advice for proper treatment and advise the patient to avoid intimate contact with boyfriend until he has been treated

Critical Error • Failure to suspect scabies or to take action to confirm diagnosis.

Commentary Scabies is a highly contagious infestation which is spread through close contact including sexual contact. Scabies can affect entire households, especially if overcrowded, although this is now uncommon. It is characterised by widespread inflammatory papules and severe pruritus and it can be endemic among school children and institutionalised older patients. The female scabies mite (illustrated below) burrows just beneath the skin in order to lay her eggs and then dies. The eggs hatch into mites which spread out across the skin and live for about 30 days. A mite antigen in the excreta induces a hypersensitivity rash.


CONDITION 041. FIGURE 2. Scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei)

CONDITION 041. FIGURE 3. Penile scabies

Clinical features include intense itching, worse at night and when hands and body are warm (for example, after a shower), with an erythematous papular rash usually on hands and wrists. The rash also can occur in web spaces, on male genitalia as illustrated, on elbows, axillae, feet and ankles, or nipples of females. Diagnosis is confirmed by microscopy of skin scrapings.


Condition 042 Red painful dry hands in a 30-year-old bricklayer AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose occupational dermatitis and advise an initial management plan.

This patient has occupational contact dermatitis secondary to concrete exposure. After 6 minutes, if the candidate has not identified the condition as contact dermatitis ask the questions: •

What is the likely cause of the condition?'

'How would you manage this condition?'

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are aged 30 years, and have been working as a bricklayer/contractor for about a year. Opening statement 'I've got problems with this rash on my hands. ' Following without prompting: Your hands have been itchy and dry for some months now, and are getting worse. The rash is on no other part of the body. You are otherwise healthy and well, with no serious past illnesses. You have no allergies. You are on no medications. State if questioned about the relationship of rash to work: the rash definitely improved significantly after a holiday from work. Your brother has skin problems but you are not sure what type.


042 Performance Guidelines


History — must elicit occupational history.

Diagnosis — should suspect allergic contact dermatitis and its cause in this patient from the history and from the physical findings as illustrated, which involve palmar and dorsal surfaces of both hands. Confirmation of diagnosis is by patch testing by dermatologist (not essential).

Management — explain to the patient that the rash will persist as long as there is exposure to cement although its severity may be reduced by the following initial management: ~ Wash only with water and avoid soap. ~ Pat dry after washing ~ Apply topical corticosteroid cream to gain initial control. Oral prednisolone is reserved for severe cases. ~ Oral antibiotics may be required for secondary infection in severe cases ~ Consider using emollient agents for future prevention. ~ For cement dermatitis, specific measures involve avoiding contact with wet cement: using barrier creams before putting on gloves (do not use barrier creams on damaged skin); using protective gloves when working and washing hands after being exposed to cement.


Ability to identify the type and cause of the dermatitis.

Ability to manage occupational contact dermatitis.

Consideration of cement as most likely cause of dermatitis.


Failure to suspect causal work association in diagnosis.

COMMENTARY Allergic contact dermatitis is due to a delayed hypersensitivity reaction. While physical appearance of the skin can be similar to other forms of dermatitis, rash site and exposure history are critical for diagnosis, management and prevention. Trigger factors only affect some people. Common trigger factors include cosmetic ingredients including perfumes and preservatives, topical antibiotics, topical anaesthetics, topical antihistamines, plants (rhus. grevillea, primula, poison ivy), metal salts (nickel sulphate, chromâtes — as occur in cement and concrete), dyes, rubber/latex, epoxy resins, glues, acrylates, coral. In cement dermatitis, individuals can become sensitised to chromate salts at any time, even after working with cement for many years.


043 Performance Guidelines

Condition 043 Swelling of both ankles in a 53-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION

To assess the candidate's ability to take a detailed history concerning swelling of the ankles, knowledge of possible causes and the components of the physical examination necessary to reach a firm provisional diagnosis.

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 53-year-old clerical worker and are consulting the doctor about swelling of your ankles. The doctor will take a history about this complaint but will not examine you Opening statement 'I have come to see you about swelling of my ankles. ' Provide the following without prompting 'Over the past eight weeks my ankles have been swelling. I usually notice this is worse at the end of each day. They have mostly gone down by the mornings. My ankles have never swelled up before'. Provide the following in answer to appropriate questioning • The swelling is the same in both lower legs, there is no discolouration of the skin. • There has been no pain in your legs. • If asked about shortness of breath: you believe that you are not as fit as you used to be because you become noticeably breathless when walking up stairs or hurrying. This passes when you rest. • Regarding exercise: you gave up playing tennis about a year ago because you became very breathless for a short time after a rally and also you felt exhausted afterwards. • Recurring palpitations: for some years you have noticed that your heart seems to 'bounce around in your chest' particularly when you are going off to sleep (thumps and misses beats). Your heart also seems to race after any strenuous exertion although this settles down after a few minutes. You have not counted your pulse rate but you are sure that it is faster than normal. You have the feeling that it may not be regular at times, but you find it hard to be sure. • No associated dizziness or blackouts. • No suggestion of a fever, no chills or shakes. • No cough or blood in sputum. • You have not had any recent chest pain with or without exercise, you may comment that this is why you haven't worried about the other symptoms. If asked about chest pain in the past say ' Four years ago I had a bad pain in the centre of my chest. I was on holidays at the time. The pain lasted about two hours and I felt unwell for a few days afterwards. ' • You sleep well, lying flat in bed: you do not snore.


Review of general health •

You consider yourself to be in good health. You have never suffered any serious ill health.

You have not had a medical check-up recently. 'After all. my father was 90 when he died'.

If asked other specific questions, reply in the negative. You have never had any kidney problems (for example, blood in urine) or liver disease (jaundice).

Review of relevant systems •

Positive responses are confined to the cardiovascular system.

In particular, no gastrointestinal symptoms including no rectal bleeding.

Other significant information •

You are very busy at work.

You work for a large legal firm as a legal secretary.

The only exercise you have these days is when gardening and this does not cause any problems, unless you are digging for more than a short time, then you get 'puffed'

You have noticed this over the past six months.

Patient profile •

You are married.

Your spouse is well.

You have three married children.

You smoked 20 cigarettes a day from age of 18 years and stopped a year ago.

You drink three glasses of wine daily.

You are not taking any medication.

You eat a normal, well-balanced diet.

Family history •

Mother died aged 77 years (stroke).

Father died aged 90 years.

No brothers or sisters.

Past medical history •

No serious illnesses.

No operations.

No history suggestive of rheumatic fever.

Blood pressure has been checked several times in recent years and was always normal.

Other instructions •

Appear calm and not unduly concerned about your swollen ankles.

You have attributed them to your age.

Be cooperative, but do not disclose all of the cardiovascular symptoms without facilitation, prompting and appropriate questioning by the doctor, as indicated above.

You are not worried about heart trouble because you no longer smoke and, apart from the short episode 4 years ago, do not have chest pain.

You have never suspected that your various symptoms could be connected and would not have attended without the insistence of your spouse.


043 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE History • This should include a reasonable number of questions detailed in the patient's advice above. Some questions out of each section should be included, but clearly time limitations will influence the choice and number • The history must at least cover key questions relating to possible cardiac, hepatic and renal causes for the oedema. • Venous thrombosis, causing inferior venacaval obstruction or bilateral lower limb deep venous thrombosis is unlikely but needs to be considered. • Possible diagnosis given to patient after history must include cardiac failure as the most likely condition. • Other potential causes could also include hepatic and renal disease (consider cirrhosis, nephrotic syndrome or malignancy as most unlikely causes in this patient). • If, after five minutes the candidate has not started to discuss with the examiner some of the likely causes for the symptoms, encourage the candidate to do so • After five minutes, if the candidate has not already done so, instruct the candidate to tel the patient the working diagnosis, and then ask the examiner for physical findings to confirm this. Examination • The examiner is not required to provide specific examination findings but should encourage the candidate to relate the examination findings sought to the previously stated diagnostic possibilities. • These should include: ~ temperature; ~ pulse rate and rhythm; ~ blood pressure; ~ jugular venous pulse and pressure; ~ mucous membranes; ~ cardiac examination (apex beat and auscultation); ~ respiratory examination (any reference to effusion, adventitious sounds or rub acceptable); ~ liver, spleen ~ inguinal region and lower limbs (symmetry of oedema, discolouration, tenderness, heat); and ~ urinalysis must be requested or come up some time in the assessment. • Candidates are not expected to indicate the investigations required in this station, although candidates may indicate the tests required to confirm the proposed diagnosis.


043 Performance Guidelines


Ability to take an appropriate history.

Ability to explain to the patient why she has swollen ankles and shortness of breath.

Ability to provide a sensible differential diagnosis.

Ability to state precisely what would be sought on physical examination and why.

This station assesses the candidate's ability to take a comprehensive, but ordered and concise history in a patient with recent onset of bilateral leg oedema. It also examines clinical reasoning abilities in understanding the potential causes of leg oedema and proceeding in a logical way to accumulate the relevant positive and negative features of the history in order to form a satisfactory probability diagnosis. Congestive heart failure can present in a subtle way with symptoms of right heart failure, such as bilateral leg oedema, which is worse after prolonged standing and reduces with supine rest. As in this case, there is often a coexisting history of left heart failure symptoms, such as exertional dyspnoea. It is very important in a patient with possible congestive heart failure not to be satisfied with this as a complete diagnosis, but to ask the questions 'Why has this patient developed heart failure? What is the underlying cause? This will require an understanding of the pathophysiology of heart failure. Heart failure is difficult to define. Various definitions include the following: •

A pathophysiological state in which an abnormality of cardiac function is responsible for the failure of the heart to pump blood at a rate commensurate with the requirements of the metabolising tissues.'

A clinical syndrome caused by an abnormality of the heart and recognised by a characteristic pattern of haemodynamic, renal, neural and hormonal responses.'

A biomechanical definition is that the failing heart exhibits a reduction of power such that it cannot maintain a normal cardiac output without abnormal elevation of systemic and/or pulmonary venous pressures.

The underlying causes of heart failure are many and it is useful to consider these under the following group headings: •

Primary myocardial disease (ischaemic heart disease, cardiomyopathy).

• •

Pressure overload (hypertension, aortic stenosis). Volume overload (aortic regurgitation, mitral regurgitation, ventricular septal defect, high output states).

Obstruction to ventricular filling (mitral stenosis).

Restriction of ventricular filling (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, constrictive pericarditis).


043 Performance Guidelines

In this station the patient presents with important history features of probable ischaemic heart disease and cardiac arrhythmia. The onset of atrial fibrillation is often a precipitant of heart failure, and this is particularly true in patients who are older, have hypertension and/or diabetes, or underlying mitral valve disease. In patients who have stiff (noncompliant) hearts due to age, left ventricular hypertrophy, hypertension, diabetes, ischaemic heart disease or a combination of these — the first presentation may be due to cardiac diastolic dysfunction where heart failure is caused by an increased resistance to filling of one or both ventricles. Atrial fibrillation is often a cause of diastolic heart failure because of the effects on ventricular filling with loss of the atrial systole and an increased ventricular rate. With diastolic dysfunction of the left ventricle, the presentation is usually with breathlessness on exertion and episodes of acute pulmonary oedema. In this patient, the presentation with leg oedema is an indication of right heart failure, which in the great majority of patients is secondary to a longstanding problem with the left heart, the so-called 'backward failure'.

CONDITION 043. FIGURE 2. Pitting oedema in CCF


2-B: Physical Examination Vernon C Marshall and Barry P McGrath 'One of the unexpected and disturbing results of the development of increasingly precise and useful diagnostic measures in the laboratory and X-ray departments is a significant and often alarming decrease in emphasis on the training of the medical student to perform with excellence the average comprehensive physical examination.' Journal of the American Medical Association (1962) LOOK! MOVE! FEEL! LISTEN! MEASURE! COMPARE! INTERPRET! This aide-memoire comprises the seven champions of physical examination. Used in the correct sequence (and remember the above sequence, eyes first and foremost and only then fingers, hands and ears), they form the basis of all physical examination techniques. Whether one is examining the whole patient, a focal region (head and neck, back, chest, abdomen, limbs) or a body system (integument, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, neuroendocrine), an ordered, well practised and logical sequence is essential. Sound technique facilitates accurate findings and diagnostic acumen. Physical examination still matters and, along with a careful history, will confirm the diagnosis in the majority of consultations despite the plethora and utility of available investigations. In preparing themselves to be good noticers and good examiners of physical signs, clinicians should gain practice in: •

Pattern recognition: the ability to define and group a constellation of features in order to diagnose, for example, shock, hyperthyroidism or cardiac failure.

Focused examination of an area or region such as a limb, the neck, the chest or the abdomen. Here one must concentrate on checking features — normal and abnormal-of the multiple local structures which comprise focal components of several body systems grouped at a common site. A sound knowledge of clinical anatomy is an essential prerequisite.

Examination of multiple sites and areas logically, sequentially and expeditiously to provide global assessment of a body system (cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, etc) A sound knowledge of clinical physiopathology is an essential prerequisite.

This introductory segment and the MCATs following provide selected examples of these techniques. Skill development in physical examination is sequential throughout undergraduate medical education and extends into independent and specialist practice. Like the acquisition of any skill, medical practitioners in their attempts to become skilled clinicians must: •

have a good understanding of correct methodology;

assiduously develop the correct techniques;

have the right equipment and know how to use it;

know the range of normality and what constitutes abnormality;

be aware of the limitations of clinical signs, but use adjuvant investigations thoughtfully and selectively; and

practise, and practise frequently.



Physical Examination

Central to correct physical examination, and unique to the health domain, is the manner in which the examiner interacts with the patient. Common problems that are observed in candidates undertaking physical examination include the following: • lack of empathy and skill in engaging the patient;

Physical examination still matters, and along with a

• failure to spend time in general inspection of the patient, thus missing careful history, will confirm the diagnosis in the important aspects of pattern recognition; majority of consultations, despite the plethora and • causing undue discomfort to the patient;

utility of available investingations.

• incorrect techniques; • failure to develop a careful, systematic approach; • a slipshod approach, missing important signs along the way; • inaccuracy of sign characterisation and of measurements; • missing obvious pathology by overlooking physical signs; • finding things that are not there; • over-interpretation; and • inability to provide a succinct, accurate clinical summary. PHYSICAL EXAMINATION — REGIONAL EXAMINATION • The integument The skin is the largest body organ. Skin rashes should be assessed as macular, papular, maculopapular, vesicular or pustular, itchy or nonitchy. Rashes are commonly allergic, irritative or infective. Atopic eczema is a blotchy ill-defined red macular rash which can progress to papule and pustule formation. Irritative contact dermatitis can be wet (intertrigo, nappy rash), or dry and associated with hyperkeratosis, lichenification and pigmentation. Infective rashes are legion and range through bacterial (impetigo, acne), fungal, or viral (molluscum contagiosum, herpes simplex and zoster, HIV). Involvement of scalp or nails may occur (psoriasis). The distribution of the rash (e.g. pretibial erythema nodosum) and associated features (e.g. focal skin ischaemia in vasculitis; central clearing in fungal lesions), give important diagnostic clues.

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 1. Flexural eczema

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 2. Acne vulgaris



Physical Examination

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 3. Molluscum contagiosum

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 4. Microsporum canis ('ring worm')

Focal skin lesions are also of immense variety. In Australia, malignant skin lesions are common, particularly in higher latitudes and in fair-haired and pale-skinned individuals. Basal cell cancers are the most common cancers, and although mostly seen on the face and other exposed parts, can occur anywhere. By contrast squamous cancers are almost always confined to sun exposed areas. Melanomas are the most serious lesions; their incidence is increasing in Australia and in most parts of the world, so picking up dysplastic or premalignant lesions is important. Most focal skin lesions are, however, benign and include benign melanocytic and other naevi, calluses and viral warts. Solar keratoses, seborrhoeic keratoses, dermatofibromas (sclerosing hemangiomas), 'senile' melanocytic and purpuric freckling, and cherry angiomas (Campbell de Morgan spots), are seen with increasing frequency with increasing age.

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 5 AND 6. Neurofibromatosis Type I — von Recklinghausen disease of nerves Note numerous cutaneous neurofibromas (molluscum fibrosum)



Physical Examination

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 7 AND 8. SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 9. Portwine stains — cavernous haemangiomas Nodular portwine stain

Cutaneous neurofibromas form part of the syndrome of von Recklinghausen disease of nerves (neurofibromatosis). The syndrome is usually readily identified by pattern recognition. Solitary cutaneous neurofibromas are also often found apart from the inherited syndrome. Congenital 'portwine' stains (cavernous haemangiomas) have a classical appearance and may become nodular with age. It is usually possible following a focused and accurate history and examination to classify lesions into clearly benign', 'clearly malignant', and 'suspicious' with the latter two needing appropriately wide excisional biopsy. • Subcutaneous lumps These are mostly benign and often merely need accurate diagnosis and reassurance. The diagnostic features of most importance are site, physical characteristics, and relationships of the lump to its surroundings (which includes the regional nodes). Critical features to note are the Ss, Cs, Ts, Fs, and Ps. • Site, Size, Shape, Surroundings. • Contour, Consistency, Colour, Compressibility, Cough impulse. • Tenderness, Temperature, Transillumination. • Fluctuation, Fixity, Fields. • Pulsation, Percussion. The lump should always be layered' — is it in subcutaneous fat, and if so is it attached to overlying skin, or underlying fascia and musculature?


The mobility of subcutaneous lumps in relation to their superficial and deep surroundings is important in picking up infiltrative rather than expansile enlargement. The former is very suggestive of malignant or inflammatory fixation and fibrosis. The lump's 'mobility' or fixity helps in checking whether it is below deep fascia, attached to nearby bone or vessel or nerve, in the abdominal parietes or intra-abdominal. Most lipomas, 'sebaceous' and other cysts, ganglia, bursae, lymph node swellings, hernias, vascular swellings and other subcutaneous lumps will be readily diagnosable if the above simple rules of focused assessment are combined with basic knowledge of local anatomy and likely pathologies. •

Head and neck lumps

With neck lumps it is particularly important always first to observe the effects of movement: swallowing, coughing, protruding the tongue, and tensing underlying muscles such as sternomastoid or trapezius. Remember to examine the accessible nasopharynx and oropharynx. The laryngopharynx and oesophagus are not accessible to your examining hands and fingers, but remember the importance of endoscopic evaluation in the diagnosis of occult primary neoplasms presenting as neck lumps. With neck lymph node swellings always keep in mind the possibility of: •

lymphatic spread from areas outside head and neck (chest and lungs, the abdomen or genitals); and

focal presentation of systemic lymphoid pathology.

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 10. Hodgkin lymphoma

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 11. Nodal metastasis from papillary carcinoma thyroid

Examination of a cytologic aspirate will often clarify the diagnosis and point the way for further diagnostic tests. For example, squamous neoplastic cells in a neck lymph node point to a potential primary neoplasm of skin, laryngopharynx, oesophagus, or lung, rather than from thyroid or stomach. Cytology may be specific for melanoma. If suggestive of adenocarcinoma, cytology commonly points to a lung, stomach, colon, breast, or testicular origin of the primary. Cytology is particularly useful in diagnosis and classification of lymphomas. Careful application of the above techniques facilitates identification of the common head and neck lumps and their primary pathologies. The most common swellings will involve lymph nodes, thyroid, salivary glands, or developmental lesions (branchial cysts, cystic hygromas, sternomastoid 'tumour'). Rarer lesions include chemodectomas such as carotid body tumours and neurilemmomas. 200


Physical Examination

• Examination of the hands and wrists

This assessment will include structural and functional changes across multiple systems. A logical approach is to think successively of the various tissue layers, checking for structure and function of each. Inspect carefully for deformities, and any abnormalities of skin and nails, then probe deeper. Test active and passive movements of each joint, always checking active movements first. Palpate carefully and carry out clinical testing for vascular insufficiency, musculotendinous disorders, bone and joint problems, and neurologic abnormalities. Common conditions encountered include: • Skin and nails: circulatory, neurotropic and occupational changes; a large variety of dermatoses and nail changes; pitting; infective lesions (Osier nodes, etc.); and vasculitis (nailfold capillaries).

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 12 AND 13. Osier nodes in bacterial endocarditis

• Subcutaneous fasciae: Dupuytren nodularity and contracture, carpal tunnel syndrome. • Muscles, tendons and sheaths: Volkmann contracture (long forearm muscles) and short hand muscle contractures (intrinsic-plus deformity); trigger finger (stenosing tenosynovitis), De Quervain tenosynovitis; spontaneous tendon rupture (dropped finger, thumb); and ganglia (dorsal, ventral, digital). • Bones and joints: changes of osteoarthritis (Heberden and Boucher nodes, carpometacarpal joint of thumb); rheumatoid arthritis (synovial thickening, rheumatoid nodules, metacarpophalangeal subluxations and ulnar deviation fingers. Z-thumb, swan-neck. boutonnière, mallet finger deformities); and gout.

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 14 AND 15. Hands in rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid nodules



Physical Examination

Nerves: check median, ulnar and radial nerve motor, sensory and autonomic function;! differentiate peripheral nerve lesions from more centrally located cervical nerve root, and| upper or lower brachial plexus lesions.


Testing interossei function •

Thenar atrophy

Vessels: observe for vascular ischaemic digital lesions, palpate pulses, check dominant! arterial supply (Allen test), check for proximal lesions (cervical rib, listen for axillary bruit)!

With hand and wrist trauma, check for bone and joint injuries, and local and distal tendonj nerve and vascular effects.

Functional assessment: test grip strength in dominant and nondominant hand: testl power, precision, and hook grips and opposition of fingers and thumb. Finally ask patient to perform everyday tasks of using a key, undoing buttons, writing, and combing hair.

Remember that any regional examination (for example, of head and neck, abdomen,; chest, limbs) necessarily involves assessment of several systems. A systems-based examination, by contrast, involves examination of several regions. Note the differing focused techniques required in performing an

abdominal examination from examination of the gastrointestinal system

PHYSICAL EXAMINATION SKILLS: EXAMINATION OF THE MAIN BODY SYSTEMS The structured approaches which follow provide succinct information on how to perform aq examination of each of the main body systems. The aim is to provide guidance for a thorough examination of each system such that important signs are not overlooked Readers are provided with learning objectives for each system and a brief guide on how to prepare both themselves and the patient in order to conduct the system specific examination. This material is based on the Clinical Skills curriculum for Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

Generic learning objectives •

Conduct physical examinations across the following:

~ Integument (see previous description) ~ Neurological system and mental status ~ Cardiovascular system ~ Respiratory system ~ Gastrointestinal system



Physical Examination

~ Haematological system ~ Endocrinological system ~ Rheumatoiogical system ~ Renal and urogenital system • Interpret and integrate history and physical examination findings to arrive at an appropriate diagnosis or differential diagnosis in commonly presenting complaints and conditions. • Describe and use clinical reasoning skills. Preparing the patient • Establish patient's level of communication capacity. • Introductions: ~ Set the scene. ~ Explain your status. ~ Exhibit a human interest in the patient. ~ Gain patient permission. • Demonstrate professionalism. • Show sensitivity to patient's modesty, health status and comfort. • Involve patient in the process with clear initial explanation and stepwise instructions regarding what you are doing and why and what you wish the patient to do. • Establish what difficulties and discomfort (especially pain) the patient may have before and during the conduct of the physical examination, and avoid causing pain wherever possible. What equipment is needed? Have your own basic set of items to aid in eliciting signs. Items marked with an asterisk are standard requirements for personal use • watch with stop watch or second hand.* • stethoscope with capacity to detect low frequency (bell) and high frequency (diaphragm) sounds.* • pencil torch.* • disposable tongue depressors.* • measuring tape.* • reflex hammer (Queen Square pattern, best with a large-size rubber head).* • pins — these must be single use only and must not be hypodermic needles or diabetic lancets. Neurotips are excellent.* • cotton wool.* • 128 or 256 Hz tuning fork for vibration testing.* • Snellen chart for testing visual acuity. • mini-mental state examination (MMSE) card. • sphygmomanometers will be available in all wards and clinics and other items will also be available for relevant stations, but items starred you should have for personal use.



Physical Examination

1. THE NEUROLOGICAL SYSTEM 1.1 Objectives Objectives for a neurological examination •

Perform a stage-appropriate, technically competent neurological examination, incling

~ mental status ~ speech - gait ~ cranial nerves ~ limbs •

Localise neurological disorders based on the results of physical examination.

Other objectives Demonstrate stage-appropriate knowledge of the selection and use of standard neurological investigations (magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], computed tomography [CT], single proton emission computed tomography [SPECT], positron emission tomography [PET], electroencephalography [EEG], nerve conduction studies [NCS], electromyography j [EMG], lumbar puncture [LP]) based on the results of history and physical examination, 1.2 Preparation What specific equipment is needed? Essential •

A red-topped pin for visual field examination

A bright pocket torch (a focusing torch with a halogen bulb, [e.g. mini-Maglite® or : similar] is best)

Visual acuity chart (Snellen) — the half-size 3 metre chart is the most practical for ward work

Desirable •


512 or 1,024 Hz tuning fork for hearing tests

Glasgow Coma Score card as an aide mémoire

Usually readily obtainable •

Cotton wool (for corneal reflex testing)

Large size paper clip (straighten, bend in centre, then bend tips at right angles to ft a serviceable 2-point discriminator)

1.3 Physical examination 1.3.1 The neurological examination •

Assessment of mental status ~ level of consciousness ~ attention (e.g. digit span) ~ language (comprehension, repetition, spontaneous speech, naming) ~ memory ~ visuoconstructional ability ~ executional ability ~ MMSE (for scaling)





● Assessment of speech ~ dysphasia/dysarthria/dysphonia ● Observation of gait and posture ~ free gait and turning ~ tandem (heel to toe) gait ~ Romberg test ~ toe/heel stance and walk, rising from squat or chair. Trendelenburg test ● Cranial nerve examination involves ~ olfaction (not routinely tested, anosmia usually due to olfactory nerve or bulb injury) ~ vision: acuity, visual fields (red pin), colour vision, fundoscopy ~ pupils: shape, size, symmetry, reactivity (light and accommodation)

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 18. Trendelenburg test

~ eye movements: smooth pursuit (H-shape), diplopia, nystagmus ~ trigeminal: corneal reflex, cutaneous sensation, motor function, jaw jerk ~ facial: facial movements, strength of eye/mouth closure, corneal reflex ~ hearing and balance: whispered voice, otoscopy, tuning fork tests; vertigo; nystagmus ~ palatal: sensation, gag reflex/palatal movement, cough ~ accessory: sternocleidomastoids, trapezius ~ hypoglossal: tongue protrusion/fasciculation

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 19. Papilloedema

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 20 AND 21. Right hypoglossal nerve palsy

● Examination of the limbs ~ observe for deformity/wasting/fasciculation/adventitious movements ~ tone (spasticity, extrapyramidal) ~ power ~ reflexes (tendon/cutaneous) ~ coordination and rhythm ~ sensation joint position/vibration pin prick/temperature 2-point discrimination



Physical Examination

2. THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM 2.1 Objectives for a cardiovascular examination •

Inspect for general and peripheral signs of cardiovascular disorder

Accurately record vital signs — pulse and blood pressure

Assess the jugular venous pulse

Perform comprehensive central examination of the heart

Detect and differentiate normal and abnormal impulses, heart sounds and murmurs

Examine the lung bases, abdomen and lower limbs for signs of heart failure

Examine the central (carotid and aorta) and peripheral arterial pulses and listen for bruits

Provide an accurate summary of your findings

2.2 Preparation •

Specific to the cardiovascular examination ~ have adequate exposure of the patient's chest wall ~ comfortably position the patient in the supine, 45 degree and sitting positions,

2.3 Physical Examination 2.3.1 The cardiovascular examination •

Observe general appearance - colour ~ respiration ~ peripheral swelling

Observe and feel the hands ~ colour ~ warmth

~ fingernails Feel and listen: the arterial pulse — radial: character, rate, rhythm, symmetry, brachial, the vessel wall

Measure and interpret blood pressure

Observe the face, tongue, sclera and conjunctivae

The neck ~ JVP: height, character, waveform ~ carotid arteries, feel and listen ~ trachea: position

The precordium ~ inspect for scars, pulsations ~ feel apex beat, and over 4 valve sites (impulses, thrills) ~ listen for heart sounds, murmurs — 4 sites ~ special manoeuvres for mitral, aortic murmurs

The chest ~ percuss and auscultate lung bases



Physical Examination

• The abdomen ~ look, feel, and percuss liver edge (check for pulsation and movement with breathing) ~ look, feel, and percuss spleen ~ look, feel, and listen to aorta ~ examine femoral pulses (radial-femoral delay) • The limbs ~ inspect skin ~ check for pitting oedema ~ check pulses and peripheral circulation ~ check venous system

3 THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM 3.1 Objectives for a respiratory examination • Inspect for signs of respiratory disorders, respiratory distress • Accurately record vital signs • Recognise clubbing

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 22 AND 23. Finger clubbing • Recognise different breathing patterns ~ paradoxical, asymmetrical, recruitment of accessory muscles, diaphragmatic dysfunction • Examine the thorax ~ the chest wall and spine ~ the lung fields ~ central cardiac examination • Assess JVP, the abdomen and lower limbs for evidence of right heart failure • Assess for metastatic disease — lymph nodes in neck and axillae, liver, bony tenderness • Provide an accurate summary and interpretation of findings

207 1


3.2 Useful specific equipment • Peak flow meter


Peak flow meter 3.3 Physical examination 3.3.1 The respiratory examination •

Look for use of sputum cup, inhalers, oxygen

General inspection of patient ~ obesity/cachexia ~ inspired oxygen requirements ~ cyanosis ~ respiratory distress and ventilatory pattern

Inspect hands ~ nicotine staining ~ clubbing ~ peripheral cyanosis ~ metabolic flap ~ pulmonary osteoarthropathy

Blood pressure — measure, determine if there is paradox

Head and neck ~ JVP height, character and waveform ( c o r p u l m o n a l e ) ~ mouth/tongue (central cyanosis) ~ trachea (tug, deviation) ~ lymph node groups

Cardiac examination ~ apex beat position ~ parasternal heave ( c o r p u l m o n a l e ) ~ heart sounds



Physical Examination

• Thorax ~ chest inspection — scars, deformity, kyphosis, barrel chest, rib crowding (anterior upper chest) ~ the lung fields (start posteriorly) ~ chest expansion — demonstrate symmetry/asymmetry, check for flail segment. ~ percussion — Compare sides for normality, dullness, hyper-resonance ~ auscultation — vocal resonance, normal and abnormal breath sounds (bronchial breathing) and added breath sounds (wheezes or crackles) ~ anterior chest — repeat lung fields examination ~ test for upper lobe expansion, symmetry ~ percuss over clavicles ~ percuss and auscultate upper chest, axillae and laterally (remember right middle lobe region) ~ percuss spine and spring ribs for bony tenderness ~ assess sacral oedema • Abdomen ~ liver span — look for ptosis, feel for pulsatile liver • Lower limbs ~ oedema, rashes • Bedside lung function testing ~ forced expiratory time (obstructive disorders) ~ counting time (restrictive and/or obstructive disorders) ~ peak flow measurement (special test) 4 THE GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM 4.1 Objectives for a gastrointestinal examination

• Inspect for general and peripheral signs of gastrointestinal disease • Accurately record vital signs (including lying and standing blood pressure) • Recognise ~ anaemia and hypovolemia ~ jaundice, ascites and signs of chronic liver disease ~ abdominal veins (Caput Medusae) ~ hepatomegaly and splenomegaly

SECTION 2-B. FIGURES 26 AND 27. Scleral jaundice

Ascites — chronic liver disease



Physical Examination

Detailed assessment of the ~ abdomen ~ periphery

Assessment of JVP and heart for evidence of right heart failure

Assessment for metastatic disease

Summary and interpretation of findings

4.2 Physical examination 4.2.1 The gastrointestinal examination •

Position the patient correctly (bed flat, single pillow, abdomen and chest exposed)

General inspection of patients ~ jaundice ~ weight and wasting ~ abdominal distension and peripheral oedema ~ skin (pigmentation and bruising) ~ mental state (encephalopathy)

Inspect the hands ~ nails (leuconychia, clubbing) ~ palms (erythema, anaemia, Dupuytren nodularity) ~ flap (asterixis)


Leuconychia •

Inspect the arms ~ bruising, petechiae, scratch marks ~ spider naevi ~ pulse and blood pressure

Inspect the face ~ eyes: jaundice, anaemia, xanthelasma ~ parotid glands ~ mouth: dentition and breath (fetor) ~ tongue





Inspect the neck and chest ~ cervical and supraclavicular nodes ~ spider naevi ~ gynaecomastia and body hair ~ JVP

4.2.2 The abdomen •


~ scars, herniae (inspect with coughing and straining before palpation). ~ distension or local swellings (inspect on deep breathing) ~ prominent veins ~ skin lesions and striae ~ periumbilical or flank discolouration (Cullen sign, Grey Turner sign)



Dilated abdominal veins in portal hypertension

Combined Cullen and Grey Turner signs in acute pancreatitis

• Palpation ~ superficial palpation (tenderness, rigidity, outline of any masses) ~ deeper palpation (define masses; liver, spleen, kidneys, other abnormal masses) ~ measurement of organ(s) if enlarged ~ roll onto right side to palpate spleen • Percussion ~ visceral outline ~ ascites and shifting dullness (away from examiner; midline to left flank) ~ listen — bowel sounds, bruits, hums • Inspect the groin (seek patient's specific permission) ~ genitalia ~ lymph nodes ~ hernias



Physical Examination

Inspect the lower limbs ~ oedema ~ bruising ~ neurological signs (alcohol)

Other ~ ask to perform a rectal (PR) examination ~ temperature chart ~ urine analysis — check this routinely for all systems

5 THE HAEMATOLOGICAL SYSTEM 5.1 Objectives for a haematological examination •

inspect general appearance

inspect the hands and face and eyes

examine the lymph node groups: epitrochlear, axillary, facio-cervical, supraclavicular, abdominal, inguinal

assess for bone tenderness

perform an abdominal examination

examine the legs

perform a urinalysis with dipsticks

provide an accurate summary of your findings — oral and written

5.2 Physical examination •

General appearance (position patient lying on the bed with one pillow) ~ geographical and ethnic origin — thalassaemia ~ pallor — anaemia ~ bruising — distribution and extent ~ jaundice — haemolysis ~ scratch marks/pruritus — lymphoma or myeloproliferative disorders


Spontaneous bruising and abdominal wall haematoma from warfarin


Rectus sheath haematoma confirmed on CT


Physical Examination

• Hands ~ nails — koilonychia, dry, brittle, ridged, spoon-shaped nails due to iron deficiency ~ pallor nail beds — anaemia ~ rheumatoid arthritis or other connective tissues disorders, anaemia of chronic disease ~ gout — myeloproliferative disorders ~ pulse — tachycardia ~ anaemic patients have increased cardiac output and compensated tachycardia because of reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of blood ~ purpura — macular bruising within the skin, which can vary in size ~ petechiae — pinhead bruising on the dependent parts of the body ~ ecchymoses — large bruises • Epitrochlear lymph nodes ~ must always be palpated ~ place the palm of the right hand under the patient's right elbow. Examiner's thumb can then be placed over the area that is proximal and anterior to the medial epicondyle ~ enlarged epitrochlear lymph node is suggestive of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma • Axillary lymph nodes ~ five main groups of axillary lymph nodes — anterior and posterior, central, lateral and medial • Face ~ eyes - scleral jaundice — haemolysis - haemorrhage — platelet or bleeding disorder - injection — polycythaemia -

conjunctival pallor — anaemia

~ mouth - gum hypertrophy — leukaemia especially acute monocytic leukaemia - gum bleeding - atrophic glossitis — megaloblastic anaemia, iron deficiency anaemia - Waldeyer ring — lymphatic tissue involving the tonsils and adenoids — enlarged in Non-Hodgkin lymphoma • Cervical and Supraclavicular Lymphadenopathy ~ sit patient up and examine from behind and in front ~ eight groups — submental, submandibular, jugular chain, posterior triangle, occipital, postauricular, preauricular and supraclavicular • Bone tenderness ~ tap spine ~ press ribs ~ gently press sternum and clavicle ~ enlarging marrow due to infiltration by myeloma, lymphoma or carcinoma



Physical Examination

Abdominal examination ~ splenomegaly — palpate, percuss and measure ~ hepatomegaly — palpate, percuss and measure ~ para-aortic lymph nodes ~ inguinal lymph nodes — transverse and vertical groups ~ testicular masses

Legs ~ bruising ~ pigmentation ~ scratch marks ~ leg ulcers — haemolytic anaemia ~ neurological abnormalities — vitamin B12 deficiency

6 THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM 6.1 Objectives for an endocrine examination •

Inspect for general physical features associated with endocrine disorders

Develop skills in symptom pattern recognition in endocrine diagnosis

Identify typical appearances of patients with hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, acromegaly, Cushing syndrome, Addison disease, Klinefelter syndrome and hypogonadism


Coarse facial features and skeletal enlargement characteristic of acromegaly. •

Tailor the examination to the specific organ system

Evaluate signs of hormone over-secretion or under-secretion

Provide an accurate summary of your findings — oral and written

6.2 Physical examination 6.2.1 The endocrine examination • •

General inspection: observe for features of specific endocrine disorders: e.g. Cushing syndrome, acromegaly, diabetes mellitus, hypoglycaemia, thyrotoxicosis, hypothyroidism Vital signs — blood pressure (postural hypotension) and pulse (bradycardia/ tachycardia)



Physical Examination

• Inspect and feel hands ~ overall size ~ length of metacarpals ~ abnormalities of nails ~ tremor ~ palmar erythema ~ sweating of palms

• Examine axilla ~ loss of axillary hair, a c a n t h o s i s n i g r i c a n s , skin tags

• Inspect eyes ~ visual fields ~ fundi

• Face ~ hirsutism/hairless ~ skin greasiness, acne, plethora

• Mouth ~ protrusion of chin ~ enlargement of tongue ~ buccal/lip pigmentation

SECTION 2-B. FIGURE 35. Peutz-Jeghers syndrome

• Neck ~ always look first and check effect of movements ~ examine for thyroid enlargement — smoothly diffuse, multinodular, or uninodular ~ palpate lymph nodes from behind and from in front ~ feel for thrill, listen for bruit over thyroid



Physical Examination

• Chest wall ~ hirsutism/loss of body hair ~ reduction in breast size/gynaecomastia ~ nipple pigmentation


Gynaecomastia •

Abdomen ~ scars, purpura, striae, masses, hepatomegaly, cirrhosis, lipohypertrophy ~ hirsutism ~ external genitalia ~ central fat deposition

Legs ~ reflexes, tone ~ diabetic changes

Body mass index (BMI — kg/m2)

7 RHEUMATOLOGICAL/MUSCULOSKELETAL SYSTEM 7.1 Objectives for a rheumatological examination • •

Perform accurate focused physical examination of joints, bones, tendons, muscles and bursae Follow sequence of look, move, feel, listen, measure, compare and Interprettor identifying normal and abnormal findings

Assess joints of limbs, spine and face — identify evidence of arthritis and whether acute or chronic, monarthritic or polyarthritic

Identify normal locomotor system anatomy and joint movement ranges, and anomalies including disorders of stance, gait and deformities

Identify extra-articular manifestations of systemic rheumatologic/connective tissue disorders

Compare sides in unilateral abnormalities and effects of dominant/nondominant hand in upper limb disorders



Physical Examination



Knee joint examination

Positive Thomas test — left hip

8 RENAL AND UROGENITAL SYSTEM 8.1 Objectives for a urogenital examination •

Perform accurate focused physical examination of male and female genitalia and identify abnormalities

Perform abdominal, vaginal and rectal examination with accurate interpretation of signs

Identify signs of acute and chronic renal insufficiency and their causes

Perform focused inguinoscrotal examination with accurate interpretation

Identify urinoscopy as a global screening test of wide utility

Identify signs and sites of urinary infections

Identify and diagnose sites and causes of haematuria, pyuria, bacilluria

Identify and diagnose sexually transmitted infections

Vernon C Marshall and Barry P McGrath



Physical Examination

2-B Physical Examination Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 044-057 44

Assessment of a comatose patient


Recent onset of poor distance vision in a 17-year-old male


A painful rash on the trunk of a 45-year-old child-care worker


Acute low back pain and sciatica in a 30-year-old man


Fever and a recent rash in a 30-year-old man


A heart murmur in a 4-year-old boy


A knife wound to the wrist of a 25-year-old man


Multiple skin lesions in a Queensland family


Subcutaneous swelling for assessment


Examination of the knee of a patient with recurrent painful swelling after injury


Assessment of hearing loss, first noted during pregnancy, in a 35-year-old woman


Examination of a 20-year-old woman who dislocated her shoulder 6 months ago


Assessment of a groin lump in a 40-year-old man


Eye problems in an Aboriginal community



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 044 Assessment of a comatose patient CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This young patient has been found unconscious this morning at home by a flatmate. The flatmate is unable to provide any history, only becoming a flatmate a week ago. When found, the patient was in bed and there was no explanation as to why the patient might have become unconscious. The patient is now in the Emergency Department where you are about to do an examination. The airway is patent, and the patient is breathing without difficulty, the blood pressure is stable (140/70 mmHg) and temperature is 37.5 °C. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Perform an examination to determine the level of unconsciousness and to try to identify the cause. • Tell the observing examiner what you are doing and why. This can be as you proceed or at the end of each component of your examination. • Towards the end of the examination (after approximately six minutes), you will be required to provide the examiner with an assessment of level of unconsciousness, a list of possible and likely explanations for the patient's unconscious state and the investigations you would arrange. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 044 can be found on page 235


045 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 045 Recent onset of poor distance vision in a 17-year-old male CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a 17-year-old apprentice who is complaining of poor distance vision of recent onset. He can no longer read notices, street signs, scoreboards etc. at a distance. He says this is most inconvenient and is gradually getting worse. Both eyes are affected. He has asked you if he may be short-sighted like his father and his older brother. He wants to be tested to check for short-sightedness or any other problems, to ask whether he will need glasses or contact lenses, whether surgery can help and whether he should see an optician or an eye specialist doctor.


Examine the patient's eyes to exclude serious eye disease.

Test the patient's visual acuity using the Snellen test chart provided and state your findings to the patient.

Explain the problem to the patient.

You do not need to take any further history. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 045 can be found on page 241



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 046 A painful rash on the trunk of a 45-year-old child-care worker CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a medical officer in a hospital primary care clinic. A 45-year-old child-care worker presents with a painful rash on the trunk, as illustrated below.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a history about the presenting problem. • Explain your diagnosis and the nature of the condition to the patient. •

Advise the patient about management.

(Near the end of the time allotted, the examiner will ask you one or two questions).


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 046 can be found on page 246



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 047 Acute low back pain and sciatica in a 30-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a 30-year-old self-employed landscape gardener who is complaining of disabling left sided low back pain. The pain came on suddenly yesterday whilst lifting a heavy rock. The pain is also felt down the side of the left thigh and leg and the outer side of the foot. It is made worse by coughing and movement. The patient could not sleep last night despite taking two Panadeine® tablets (paracetamol 500 mg codeine phosphate 8 mg per tab). The patient has previously been in excellent health and has no other relevant past or family history. Abnormal examination findings are: He has difficulty standing or walking on his toes on the left side. He has severe limitation to left straight leg raising, with a positive stretch test, diminished left ankle jerk and diminished sensation to light touch on the outer aspect of the left foot, and painful limitation of lumbar spine movements, particularly flexion/extension and left lateral bending. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Advise the patient of the most likely diagnosis and management required.

Counsel the patient about when he can return to work and any necessary modifications that may be required.

There is no need for you to take any additional history, nor request any further examination findings. All the information you need is detailed above.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 047 can be found on page 248


048 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 048 Fever and a recent rash in a 30-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a hospital primary care clinic. A 30-year-old man who works as a fashion consultant in a clothing store is presenting to you with fever and rash, onset two days ago. The rash appears as in the illustration below. It is a generalised erythematous maculo-papular rash. You have just finished examining him. Your other findings on physical examination were a fever of 38.5 °C, an inflamed palate, a palpable spleen and generalised tender lympha-denopathy in the neck, axillae and groins. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further focused history from the patient. • Explain to the patient the possible nature of his condition and how you intend to proceed. • Briefly discuss differential diagnosis and investigations with the examiner.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 048 can be found on page 252



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 049 A heart murmur in a 4-year-old boy CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. A 4-year-old boy has been seen with his mother. He was taken to another doctor with a cold whilst the family were on holidays and a soft cardiac murmur was heard. His parents were asked to bring him to see the family doctor, to decide if anything further needs to be done. His general health and exercise tolerance are excellent and he is on the 50th centile for height and weight. He has never been cyanosed. There is no history of heart disease in the immediate family but a cousin had a hole-in-the-heart operation. His parents feel he has no concerning symptoms. On examination you have confirmed a soft vibratory midsystolic murmur (grade 2/6) located between the lower left sternal edge and the apex, which varies with respiration. Full physical examination is otherwise completely normal. You have finished your history-taking and examination and are about to discuss things with the child's mother.

YOUR TASK IS TO: • Explain your diagnosis and further management to the child's mother. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 049 can be found on page 255



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 050 A knife wound to the wrist of a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working as a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) in a hospital Emergency Department. The patient you are seeing has presented with a history of a knife wound to the left wrist from an assailant after an argument in a pub. He has been brought to hospital by an ambulance. The wound bled profusely at first and was controlled by a pressure dressing which is still on the wound. The ambulance personnel described the wound as a nasty deep knife wound and its extent is illustrated in the photograph. You are about to examine the patient for evidence of damage to important structures. Do not remove the dressing. Assume that the illustration represents accurately the extent of the skin wound.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Perform a focused and relevant examination to determine the likely extent of injury. Explain to the examiner what you are doing, and why, as you proceed, or at the conclusion of that segment of the examination. • Describe your findings and your diagnosis of the injuries to the examiner. • The examiner will ask you one or two questions at the conclusion of your commentary


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 050 can be found on page 257



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 051 Multiple skin lesions in a Queensland family CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice in a small country town. A 58-year-old farmer, who lives with his family, 160 km outside of town, comes to see you as he is concerned about his family members, having seen a television programme about skin cancer. He has taken photographs of his family's various skin lesions and asks for your advice about the need for them to seek medical attention, and whether attendance is urgent. They are all very busy harvesting crops and will be so for several weeks. The farmer presents the following photographs showing: 1. The lip of his 35-year-old son

2. The neck of his 50-year-old brother



3. The face of his 82-year-old father



4. The leg of his 56-year-old wife



Candidate Information and Tasks

5. The chest of his 52-year-old brother (who drinks a large amount of alcohol)

6. The face of his 22-year-old daughter



YOUR TASKS ARE TO ADVISE HIM AS FOLLOWS AFTER REVIEWING THE PHOTOGRAPHS: • Indicate which lesions are likely to be benign, and which are likely to be malignant or suspicious of malignancy. • Indicate which member(s) of the family require(s) the most urgent treatment. • Indicate the mode of spread of any malignant lesions you diagnose. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 051 can be found on page 264


052 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 052 Subcutaneous swelling for assessment CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your patient is seeking advice about a subcutaneous swelling which has been present for about 10 years. The patient thinks it may have grown slowly over this period but not much change in size has occurred. It has never been painful or otherwise symptomatic. The patient is not particularly concerned about it but is curious as to its cause. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Perform an appropriately focused and relevant physical examination in order to determine the nature of the lump.

Describe your findings to the examiner as you proceed.

Tell the examiner the likely diagnosis.

Explain your findings and diagnosis to the patient and indicate what further evaluation and/or treatment is required.

You may ask relevant questions of the patient during your examination, but your princip task is to perform a physical examination and come to a diagnosis. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 052 can be found on page 274


Condition 053 Examination of the knee of a patient with recurrent painful swelling after injury CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS The patient you are about to see in a general practice setting has a history of twisting the right knee six months ago when he caught his foot on a piece of broken pavement. He fell on the knee and it became swollen and painful on the inner side. The swelling caused a painful limp for a few days and then subsided with easing of symptoms. Since then he has had intermittent attacks of pain on the inner side of the knee with swelling, which settles within 24 hours, and has had difficulty in straightening the leg fully. He is, on occasion, apprehensive when twisting to the right. Between attacks of pain he can walk normally with only a minor feeling of pain on the inner side of the knee. He is otherwise well. This is the first time he has consulted a doctor about this problem.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Perform a focused and relevant physical examination of the knees, giving a commentary to the observing examiner as you proceed, describing what you are doing and why, and your findings. • After seven minutes, you will be expected to present a diagnostic/differential diagnostic plan to the examiner.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 053 can be found on page 280




Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 054 Assessment of hearing loss, first noted during pregnancy, in a 35-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice and your next patient is a young woman who gave birth to her first child one month ago. She is complaining of loss of hearing, which she first noted about midway through her pregnancy. It has become progressively worse since and affects both ears. She is otherwise well and her infant (breastfed) is thriving. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further focused history concerning her hearing loss (limit this to one minute). • Examine the patient and test her hearing, telling the examiner what you are doing, including your findings. • Tell the examiner the type of hearing loss present. • Inform the patient of the most likely cause of her hearing loss. • Suggest to the patient what further action is indicated for her hearing loss, including a prognosis. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 054 can be found on page 282


Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 055 Examination of a 20-year-old woman who dislocated her shoulder 6 months ago CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO). Your next patient dislocated her shoulder playing competitive basketball six months ago. It was a typical anterior dislocation which was complicated by a nerve injury and was treated by closed reduction, several weeks immobilisation in a sling, subsequent physiotherapy and a gymnasium programme. The patient has returned for a check up at the hospital outpatient department, has told you the shoulder now seems to be working fine, and that she would like to recommence playing basketball next season.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Perform an appropriately focused and relevant physical examination of the area. • Describe your findings to the observing examiner as you proceed. • Discuss future activities with the patient. • In the final two minutes you will be asked questions by the examiner.

CONDITION 055. FIGURE 1. Film of previous dislocation 6 months ago

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 055 can be found on page 286



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 056 Assessment of a groin lump in a 40-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a primary care clinic attached to a teaching hospital. Your next patient is a 50-year-old man who works as a builder's labourer. Two weeks ago he felt a pain in his right groin after heavy lifting at work and a week later noticed a lump in the groin which had not been there before. The lump is not acutely painful, but is uncomfortable on exertion or walking. Discomfort is eased on lying down. He is in good general health, without relevant past history and has no problems with lungs or heart, bladder or bowels.


Perform a focused physical examination to assess the lump, which is illustrated below.

Give your diagnosis and management plan to the patient.

You do not need to take any further history.

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 1. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 056 can be found on page 289


Condition 057 Eye problems in an Aboriginal community CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a doctor working in a general practice in a remote setting in the Northern Territory. You are about to see a nurse who has recently joined the staff of the general practice clinic. The nurse made a time to see you to discuss eye problems she has noticed in the local Aboriginal community. The nurse has taken digital photographs of eye problems that were noticed in a number of affected individuals (see figures below of four separate individuals). In the upper two photographs the upper eyelid is everted. The nurse wants you to explain what can cause these appearances, and what can be done about the problem in the local community. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Study the photographs and describe the abnormalities to the clinic nurse. • Explain to the nurse what disease is illustrated in the photographs, and its epidemiology. • Discuss with the nurse how the problem should be managed. • Answer any questions that the nurse may have.





Figures 1 and 2 were photographs taken after everting the upper eyelid. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 057 can be found on page 293



Physical Examination 2-B Physical Examination Performance Guidelines M CAT 044-057 044 Assessment of a comatose patient 045 Recent onset of poor distance vision in a 17-year-old male 046 A painful rash on the trunk of a 45-year-old child-care worker 047 Acute low back pain and sciatica in a 30-year-old man 048 Fever and a recent rash in a 30-year-oid man 049 A heart murmur in a 4-year-old boy 050 A knife wound to the wrist of a 25-year-old man 051 Multiple skin lesions in a Queensland family 052 Subcutaneous swelling for assessment 053 Examination of the knee of a patient with recurrent painful swelling after injury 054 Assessment of hearing loss, first noted during pregnancy, in a 35-year-old woman 055 Examination of a 20-year-old woman who dislocated her shoulder 6 months ago 056 Assessment of a groin lump in a 40-year-old man 057 Eye problems in an Aboriginal community


044 Performance Guidelines

Condition 044 Assessment of a comatose patient AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to examine and diagnose a patient presenting with coma.

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are to play the part of a young person found in a coma in your flat this morning breathing without difficulty with a Glasgow Coma Score of 10 out of 15 (see following pages about Glasgow Coma Scale). You are wearing shorts and T-shirt and are feigning unconsciousness and stupor on a hospital bed. Your responses should be: • Maintain your level of consciousness and responses as follows during the candidate's examination. Keep your neck stiff when candidate attempts to flex it.

~ Eye opening: eyes should be closed. Do not open them spontaneously or to verbal command but open them in response to painful stimulation.

~ Best motor responses: no response to verbal command. Localise pain when stimulated — move arms towards source of pain or withdraw limb if stimulated.

~ Best verbal responses: use of inappropriate words. When painful stimuli applied say 'piss off', or 'damn'or 'shit'. The candidate will probably: • Do a general examination looking for evidence of injury. • Examine your eyes and pupils, and will open your eyelids to do this and shine a torch. • Examine your response to commands and painful stimuli. • Examine you for neck stiffness (which you have). • Check your pulse and breathing. Blood pressure and temperature have been given as normal. • Check your arms for evidence of intravenous drug abuse.

In summary, you are being examined to check the level of coma and possible causes for this. • You are feigning a partially responsive coma, with a Glasgow Coma Score of 10-11 out of the normal score of 15, breathing spontaneously, reacting by localising to pain, and with inappropriate verbal response when stimulated. • Remain in this role throughout the examination. • Remember, your neck is stiff if flexion is attempted.


044 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate is examining, in the Emergency Department, a comatose young person found in bed this morning, who is haemodynamically stable. The candidate is expected to: •

Examine for evidence of injury to the head or elsewhere.

Look for evidence of neck stiffness.

Examine eye movement by gently opening the lids.

Examine pupillary size and response to light (direct and consensual).

If candidates say they are going to test the corneal response, indicate that there is normal eye closure to cotton wool testing. Similarly, if the candidate wishes to look at the fundi or ear drums, advise that they are normal.

Examine breathing pattern — no hyperventilation (as in a hyperglycaemic coma) or hypoventilation (as in a drug overdose) is present.

Examine for evidence of intravenous drug use or insulin injection sites in patients with diabetes.

Check for pulse rate, rhythm and character, which are normal.

Arrange immediate blood sugar estimation — this may be asked by the candidate as part of the examination. Alternatively, it should be done as part of the investigations recommended.

After six minutes, the examiner will ask the candidate three questions: 1. 'What is the Glasgow Coma Scale level?' Answer: around 10-11 out of possible 15 (Table 1) 2. 'Name at least four possible causes of the coma?' Acceptable causes would be: ~ drug overdose ~ meningitis ~ cerebral vascular accident (subarachnoid haemorrhage) ~ diabetic hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia ~ head injury ~ psychiatric problem 3. 'What investigations would you do?'— all these are required urgently: ~ brain computed tomograph (CT) / magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (if available-lumbar puncture generally should NOT be done until the results of head imaging are available. If results from CT/MRI are not available, lumbar puncture using a 25 gauge needle would be appropriate in view of neck stiffness). ~ blood and/or urine for drug screen ~ serum electrolytes and blood glucose ~ oxygen saturation


044 Performance Guidelines

KEY ISSUES • Ability to perform a focused, relevant and accurate examination to aid determination of the level and cause of the coma. ~Neck stiffness should be tested and identified. ~ No response to verbal command but response to pain. ~ The candidate should indicate appropriate knowledge of the Glasgow Coma Scale. • Ability to provide an adequate differential diagnosis. • Ability to describe an initial investigation plan. ~ Mandatory investigations should include Brain CT or MRI. drug screen and blood sugar level. If CT/MRI is not readily available, a lumbar puncture should be performed if there is no evidence of papilloedema.

• Failure to determine reasonably the level of coma by the Glasgow Coma Scale score. • Failure to check for neck stiffness.

Coma is a state of deep unconsciousness where the patient shows no meaningful response to external stimuli. The comatose patient has no verbal response, does not obey commands and does not open the eyes spontaneously or in response to command. Stupor is also a state of inaccessible consciousness without awareness, but the stuporous patient shows some response to painful stimuli. Coma and stupor, and other levels of deep unconsciousness, are best graded on the Glasgow Coma Scale. This has three elements: eye opening, and best verbal and motor responses to standard stimuli (Table 1).


044 Performance Guidelines

CONDITION 044. TABLE 1. Glasgow Coma Scale score CRITERIA Eyes open Spontaneously To speech or verbal command To pain No response Best motor response

SCALE 4 3 2 1

- To verbal command Obeys - To painful stimuli


Localises pain Withdrawal Abnormal flexion (decorticate rigidity) Extension (decerebrate rigidity) No response Best verbal response

5 4 3 2 1

Oriented Confused conversation Inappropriate words Incomprehensible sounds No response TOTAL SCORE

5 4 3 2 1 Range of 3-15

NOTE: A score of 15 represents a fully responsive and conscious patient. A score of 3, the lowest level, a deeply comatose patient unresponsive to external stimuli. A score of 3 of course does not indicate 'brain death' or a 'vegetative state or any other prognostic features as a single reading

Guidelines for neurological examination and conscious state chart are shown in Figures 1 and 2 1 .

1Reproduced from Hunt P and Marshall V, Clinical Problems in General Surgery, Butterworths 1991



Conscious state and head injury chart1

1Reproduced from Hunt P and Marshall V, Clinical Problems in General Surgery, Butterworths, 1991.


044 Performance Guidelines

CONDITION 044. FIGURE 2. Guide to recording neurological observation chart1

1Reproduced from Hunt P and Marshall V, Clinical Problems in General Surgery, Butterworths, 1991


Condition 045 Recent onset of poor distance vision in a 17-year-old male AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of myopia, and ability to test visual acuity and distance vision using a Snellen test chart.

The examiner must check the myopic patient's visual acuity in each eye before the examination commences. The patient should have mild myopia and does not require any special instructions other than the knowledge of having his eyes tested and providing appropriate responses. The doctor/candidate will explain and perform the procedures.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Exclude serious eye disease The candidate should indicate that the following would be examined: • eyelids (ptosis, retraction of upper or lower lids) • conjunctiva (chemosis, injection, pallor) • cornea (ulceration) • anterior chamber (blood or pus) • sclera (jaundice) • orbit (tenderness, paraesthesia) • eyeball (intraocular pressure, glaucoma) The candidate should indicate use of the ophthalmoscope to: • test the red reflex (to exclude cataract); • examine the retina (detachment, exudates, haemorrhage, new vessel formation); • examine the optic disc (bulging, blurring of margins): and • examine the macula (exudates). The pupil will not be dilated. The candidate is expected to describe the proposed use of the opthalmoscope to the examiner who will then say 'fundoscopic examination is normal'. A thorough examination of the eye will also include instillation of fluorescein (cornea), dilatation of the pupils (appropriate view of the posterior chamber), tonometry (intraocular pressure) and the pinhole test. The pinhole test A pinhole test card should be placed in an obvious position and used by the candidate for both eyes If visual acuity is not improved by looking through a card with a 1 mm pinhole, the defective vision is not solely due to a refractive error. Macular degeneration, cataract and glaucoma will need to be excluded. If the unaided visual acuity is less than 6/12, the patient should be referred to an ophthalmologist.


045 Performance Guidelines

Test visual acuity The term 'visual acuity' refers to the clarity of vision (from the Latin acuitas or sharpness). Visual acuity is expressed as a proportionate relationship between the subject's vision and a person with normal vision. The subject is asked to read from a Snellen chart. The chart, with letters of different sizes on each of its ten or eleven lines, is placed 6 metres (20 feet) from the subject. An individual with visual acuity of 6/6 (or 20/20 if feet are used) is just able to identify a letter whose height subtends 5 minutes of arc at the eye. Such letters are found on one of the lower lines of the Snellen chart. Acuity of this degree is referred to as normal vision. Being able to discern letters below this line shows increased visual acuity and if the individual can only decipher letters above this line, the visual acuity is diminished. A near-sighted (myopic) individual will have better visual acuity at close distance, whereas a far-sighted (hyperopic) person will have better visual acuity at far distance. With the onset of presbyopia, near visual acuity diminishes and reading glasses are required. Testing visual acuity Visual acuity is measured using the Snellen chart, displaying letters of progressively smaller size. Visual acuity is recorded in the form of a fraction but it is NOT a fraction in the mathematical sense of the word. The numerator indicates the distance of the patient from the chart (e.g. 6 metres), and the denominator indicates the distance at which the normal eye can read the line. Normal vision is 6/6 (20/20). Visual acuity of 6/6 means that the test subject sees the same line of letters at 6 metres (20 feet) as that seen by a person with normal sight at 6 metres (20 feet), whereas 6/12 (20/40) vision means that the test subject sees at 6 metres (20 feet) what a normal person sees at 12 metres (40 feet). Because the visual nomenclature used does not représenta mathematical fraction, it is incorrect to say that 6/12 represents 50% of normal sight. In fact, for legal assessment of visual impairment, 6/30 is regarded as a 50% impairment. Visual acuity of 6/5 (20/15) vision is better than normal 6/6 (20/20). A person with 6/5 (20/15) vision can see objects at 6 metres (20 feet) that a person with normal vision sees at 5 metres (15 feet). Note that the Snellen notation applies only to distance vision. Near vision is recorded using font size, usually in this country the American point-type. Thus normal reading vision is N5 (5 point type). Newsprint is N8 (8 point type). Levels of vision 6/6 — Normal vision. This is the visual requirement for a fighter pilot 6/12 — The visual requirement for a Driver's Licence in Australia 6/60 — Legal blindness. Testing should be done as follows: • The patient faces a Snellen chart at 6 metres distance. Formal testing requires a distance of 6 metres (20 feet), necessitating use of a large room or a small room with a mirror to adjust for the distance. A 6-metre chart should always be employed for formal visual acuity testing. Preliminary office testing can employ a 3-metre chart.


045 Performance Guidelines

• Explain procedure to patient: Start reading at top (largest) line of letters. If only the top line can be read, acuity is 6/60. If the patient is unable to read the top line, the chart should be moved closer to the patient, 1 metre at a time, until the top line can be read. If the top line can be read at 3 metres, this is recorded as 3/60. If the patient cannot see 1/60, he is asked to identify a moving hand, and this is recorded as 'Hand Movements' (HM). If unable to see a moving object, a light is shone in the eye and the patient is asked if he can appreciate the light, and this is recorded as 'Perception of Light' (PL). If the patient can point to the light accurately, this is recorded as 'PL with accurate projection'. If the light is not seen, the acuity is NLP (No Light Perception). • Visual acuity corresponds to the lowest line which can be read. The small numbers corresponding to the lowest line which can be read give the denominator — the distance in metres at which a person with normal vision can read the line. In a line with 5 or more letters, the patient should correctly identify 3 letters to be regarded as having read the line. • Examine each eye separately by using an occlusive card in a systematic way which includes asking the patient to read the lines backwards when testing the second eye. • If the visual acuity is worse than 6/6, the candidate should perform a pinhole test. Ask the patient to hold a piece of paper with a 2 mm hole in it over the uncovered eye. This manoeuvre utilises the 'pinhole camera effect' and results in an improvement in visual acuity if a refractive error is the cause of the diminished acuity. The patient should be referred for refraction and prescription of glasses. • The candidate should give findings to examiner in the conventional way, normal vision being 6/6. The smaller the ratio, the poorer the vision (6/12, 6/24, etc).

Explain problem • Nature of myopia. • Management options.

KEY ISSUES • Exclusion of serious eye disease with ophthalmoscope and pinhole test. • Correct use of the Snellen test chart. • Accuracy of examination (compare with examiner's findings). • Diagnosis — must state myopia, or short-sightedness or near-sightedness. • Patient counselling/education — cause, treatment, need for periodic check of intraocular tension when over 40 years of age.

CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to exclude serious eye disease. • Failure to mention myopia as a possible diagnosis.


045 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY A comprehensive history and careful physical examination will provide a diagnosis in most common ophthalmic disorders. Although unlikely in this case, the possibility of the patient's complaint of recent impaired vision being due to a serious cause (namely retinal detachment, glaucoma, cataract or macular degeneration) should be considered by the candidate Ophthalmoscopic examination and the use of the pinhole test cover these concerns at this stage of assessment of vision. Myopia (near-sightedness or short-sightedness) is a common inherited condition which in most cases is due to the axis of the eyeball being too long so that the visual image is focused in front of the retina. Less often the refractive power of the lens is too strong. The condition is readily corrected by the use of a concave (minus) lens. Onset can be in childhood, but more commonly in late teens. The condition tends to worsen in early adult life and then stabilises. The prescription: The refractive error of the eye can be expressed in numeric terms. The power of the lenses necessary to correct vision is measured in units called dioptres (see below). The first number in a spectacle prescription designates the amount of myopia (minus numbers) or hyperopia (plus numbers). The second number (if present), indicates the amount of astigmatism. The third number indicates the axis of the steepest meridian of the cornea (e.g. +3.00/-2.50 X 170'). The fourth number is the additional correction needed to bring the focal point of the eye to the reading distance. The dioptre is the unit of measurement of the strength of a lens. A lens deviates light and the amount of deviation is proportional to the amount of curvature and the density of the lens. A lens of power of 1 dioptre has a focal length of 1 metre (i.e. parallel rays of light are brought to a focus 1 metre from the lens). As the refractive power of a lens decreases, the focal length increases. The strength of a lens = 1/focal length. Thus a 4-D lens has a focal length of 'A metre. The power is a negative number of a concave lens (myopia, near-sightedness) or a positive number for a convex lens (hyperopia, far-sightedness). The corrective lens can be prescribed by an optician, although an initial assessment by an ophthalmologist is preferable to exclude any other cause of visual impairment, especially retinal detachment and macular degeneration, both more common if myopia is severe. Contact lenses can be worn to correct myopia, without the risks of surgical correction. Corrective operations (excimer laser surgery) can produce excellent results by altering corneal curvature and thus the refractive power of the eye. This procedure is not without significant risk. Otherwise glasses will need to be worn. Reading is not affected much until middle age. Myopia can affect the accurate measurement of intraocular pressure, and therefore intraocular pressure should be checked periodically to detect chronic open angle glaucoma which is asymptomatic in the early stages. This applies to all patients, and particularly to myopes. The 'acute red eye', although not relevant to this case, is an important and urgent clinical problem. Most of the causes of red eye (conjunctivitis, foreign body, inflammation ulceration, glaucoma and subconjunctival haemorrhage) are associated with pain and/or trauma and can be excluded on the history alone in this patient.


Sudden loss of vision is usually associated with a vascular or neurological problem and again, these types of problem are not relevant in the present case. Diabetes mellitus must be considered, as presentation of this disorder with an ophthalmological complication may occur. Some diabetics present with cataract; others with mature onset diabetes may present with poor central vision due to oedema of the macula. The assessment of the ophthalmoscope and pinhole test should exclude the serious disorders that can be associated with gradual visual loss (and others such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, cataract and macular degeneration).

CONDITION 045. FIGURES 1 AND 2. Visual acuity charts (not to scale)


046 Performance Guidelines

Condition 046 A painful rash on the trunk of a 45-year-old child-care worker AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's approach to a patient with a dermatomal rash from herpes zoster plus weight loss and tiredness, which could be incidental but may be associated with underlying malignancy. These symptoms need to be further assessed. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a child-care worker in a kindergarten. You are single and live by yourself. Opening statement:

'I've had a pain in my lower chest and now there is this rash. ' Answer questions about your condition as follows: •

You have been feeling a bit unwell for a few days.

You have had a burning pain over your lower chest and flank for a few days.

You noticed today that you have developed a blistery rash that runs in a line around your chest and abdomen in the area where the pain started.

In addition, you have lost 6 kg in weight over the past few months and have been feeling more tired than usual (you have nothing to add to this general statement. You have noted no disturbance to any body system function).

You have had no serious past illnesses, there is no relevant family history. You have no allergies and are on no medications.

Describe the pain and the skin rash without prompting. Do not volunteer the weight loss and associated recent tiredness unless questioned first about How has your health been in general?'or something along those lines. You have been considering having a checkup but have no other symptoms, and you had not considered that there might be something seriously wrong until the pain and this rash appeared. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE •



~ Typical history and rash (see Figure 1) of herpes zoster with prodromal preherpetic neuralgia.

~ Must make diagnosis of herpes zoster. Must show concern over recent weight loss and tiredness. •

Initial management ~ Treat the rash with symptomatic measures such as calamine or cold compresses and a drying lotion. ~ Use analgesics with or without codeine. ~ Treat with antiviral medications if patient presents (as in this instance) within firs! 72 hours of the rash —

aciclovir, famciclovir or valaciclovir.


046 Performance Guidelines

~ Monitor for the development of postherpetic neuralgia which may require further management. ~ Examine patient and perform investigations for any possible precipitating cause. In this case, the weight loss and tiredness demand further investigation (no details are required at this stage). • Patient education and counselling ~ Explain the cause to the patient (i.e. relationship of herpes zoster to varicella [chicken pox]). ~ Explain that the condition is only mildly contagious, but that chickenpox can be acquired by those persons in close contact with the patient who have not previously had chicken pox. Therefore appropriate infection control measures need to be taken including management of occupational and community contacts (for example, she is a child-care worker in a kindergarten and young children and babies should not be exposed to vancella zoster virus). After 5-6 minutes, if the candidate has not discussed these issues, the examiner will ask ~ 'Are there any unusual features of the condition in this patient? ~ 'How would you manage this particular patient?' KEY ISSUES • History-taking must elicit weight loss and tiredness. • Diagnose herpes zoster/shingles • Management must consider use of aciclovir or other related antiviral drugs. • Must advise further assessment regarding weight loss and tiredness and discuss implications of infectivity. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to diagnose herpes zoster. • Failure to consider the possibility of an additional underlying cause in this patient. • Failure to assess implications for contacts in community and work settings. COMMENTARY Herpes zoster (shingles) is caused by reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV) acquired originally through primary infection with chicken pox. • The condition is more common in people over 50 years of age. • The virus is found in the dorsal root ganglion. In most cases the reason for reactivation is unknown, although occasionally this can be related to an underlying malignancy such as a lymphoma, leukaemia or immunosuppression including HIV infection. • Occasionally patients may get rare complications including meningoencephalitis. • Post-herpetic neuralgia is an important sequel. The incidence of post-herpetic neuralgia increases with age, affecting around 30-50% of adults aged 70-79 years.


047 Performance Guidelines

Condition 047 Acute low back pain and sciatica in a 30-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose and treat the problem of acute exertion-related low back pain and sciatica.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a self-employed landscape gardener aged 30 years. You have consulted this doctor because of the sudden onset of severe disabling pain in your lower back yesterday which moved down your left thigh and leg into your foot. It came on when you lifted a heavy rock and you have not been able to work. You could not sleep last night despite taking Panadeine® tablets. It hurts to move and to cough. You usually keep in excellent health with no serious medical problems in the past. The doctor has taken your history and examined you. He will explain the problem and what you have to do. •

Show concern about how you are going to be able to work now and in the future.

Appear to be in severe pain - sit uncomfortably be restless.

State dissatisfaction with level of pain relief — you could not sleep last night.

Expect the doctor to 'do something' to get rid of the pain.

Resist advice (irrationally) not to go to work even in a supervisory capacity because of important jobs needing to be finished.

Become compliant if the doctor explains the situation and gives appropriate advice.

Questions to ask unless already covered (candidate's likely response is detailed in brackets): •

W h a t h a s h a p p e n e d t o m y b a c k ? ' (Explain 'slipped disc' — intervertebral disc prolapse with

H o w d o e s t h i s h a p p e n ? ' ( V e r y common, related to stress on back whilst lifting).

H o w l o n g w i l l I b e a w a y f r o m w o r k ? ' (Depends on progress. Usually settles rapidly with I

herniation of nucleus pulposus — use of a diagram can be helpful).

adequate rest. If so, off work for 1-2 weeks. If pain does not settle, must be investigated by CT orMRI). •

' S h o u l d I s e e a c h i r o p r a c t o r ? ' (Definitely not at this stage; manipulation may worsen the condition).

W i l l I b e a b l e t o l i f t h e a v y o b j e c t s i n t h e f u t u r e ? ' (Give advice on how to lift with gooi self-maintenance strategies).

' W i l l I a l w a y s h a v e a b a d b a c k ? ' { N o , likelihood of recovery is good).

'Do / n e e d t o s e e a S p e c i a l i s t ? ' (Not at this stage, will be arranged if symptoms persist!

' C a n ' t I h a v e a n o p e r a t i o n t o f i x i t a n d r e l i e v e t h e p a i n ? ' (Usually not necessary, but wil

' W h a t e l s e c a n I t a k e f o r t h e p a i n ? ' (Panadeine forte03).

depend on progress).


047 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Diagnosis and explanation of condition • Anatomy of lumbar spine (this is an L5/S1 level problem, involving the S1 nerve root) • Causes of pain particularly disc prolapse with nerve impingement/irritation (radiculopathy). • Expected course both short and long term — most resolve completely • A diagram would assist. Immediate management • Adequate rest is essential (3-4 days rest at home, but up and about as tolerated) • Pain-relieving medication — Panadeine®, Panadeine forte® or similar (including NSAID). • Subsequent physiotherapy and back-strengthening exercises. • Indications for further investigation — lack of, slow, or incomplete resolution. Then needs CT orMRI. • Avoidance of manipulation. • Gentle traction may have a place in treatment if progress slow — would be advised after specialist referral. • Emphasis on positive approach. Prognosis for recovery within a few weeks is good despite ankle jerk being affected. • Need for investigation — this is particularly important if there is no improvement, or there is continuing evidence of neurologic or muscle weakness (CT acceptable, MR I preferred, plain X-ray gives limited information only). • Physiotherapy — stretching and arching active mobilising exercises appropriate once initial symptoms ease. • Orthopaedic, neurological or rheumatologic consultation — will be required for lack of resolution. Preventive measures 'Back education' including advice regarding bending and lifting, and the value of walking, swimming. Future management Reassessment in short term (2-3 days). This is essential.

• Ability to determine the likely cause of the sciatica and to explain the cause to the patient. • Adequate knowledge of the management of a patient with acute sciatica including what further investigations or referral are required and when these should be done. • Ability to advise the patient about work practice modifications required to prevent a recurrence of the problem. • Ability to advise early rest and short term review.


047 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to make correct diagnosis of a likely disc lesion.

COMMENTARY Low back pain is a very common problem in Australian society. The incidence increases with age and is more common in manual workers than sedentary workers. A major problem in spinal assessment is the fact that there is often a poor correlation between clinical presentation (the patient's history and examination finding) and the imaging findings. Imaging abnormalities will be found with increasing frequency in individuals with or without accompanying symptoms from their third decade onwards. Back pain, acute and chronic, is thus one of the most common of all conditions encountered but precise pathology is very frequently lacking. The portmanteau and nonspecific term 'Mechanical low back pain' is useful in that it codifies a very common condition from which almost all individuals will suffer at some time of their lives. In such instances the precise pathology is indeterminable and no specifically diagnostic imaging or other test is available. Back pain may (or may not) follow an identifiable injury or strain as occurred in this patient Pain is usually self-resolving over a period of days or weeks, but may become recurrent, relapsing or chronic, and is influenced by cultural, psychological, socioeconomic and other personal factors in its incidence and persistence. Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that the condition and its preferred treatment remain controversial. The outcome of physical treatments such as massage, manipulation, heat, light, sound/ultrasound, electricity and magnetism (and surgery) are each difficult to separate from placebo and are prone to fashion and fetish. Clinical studies are possible and literature search and meta-analysis can be helpful and reveal (for example) that laser treatment of low back pain is free of concerning side-effects, but gives short term outcomes no different from placebo, and is expensive and not cost-effective. Distinguishing true radicular sciatic pain ('sciatica') due to nerve root compression requires symptoms of pain of lancinating or cramping type, extending usually from low back and buttock down the leg to foot and toes corresponding to sensory disturbance within the dermatomal distribution of appropriate nerve roots (most commonly L5 or S1 ), exacerbated by straining or coughing, with positive nerve tension signs, and sometimes with objective motor weakness and sensory loss corresponding to the appropriate motor nerve root. Such a constellation of objective signs (as in this patient) is virtually pathognomonic and diagnostic of nerve root foramen compression (from intervertebral | disc prolapse, facet joint arthropathy or other encroachments on the relevant nerve root or spinal canal). Confirmation of the diagnosis can usually be made by noninvasive imaging, of which MRI is the most accurate. Persistence of unrelieved pain after one month is an | indication of the need for a full history and examination (including diagnostic imaging), concentrating on the search for pointers of more serious pathology (malignancy, referred back pain from intra-abdominal lesions, bone infections, or cauda equina symptoms such as interference with bowel or bladder control). This case scenario has been chosen to exemplify the classical syndrome of nerve impingement radiculopathy, the most likely diagnosis being compression from an intervertebral disc prolapse between L5 and S1.


047 Performance Guidelines

By contrast, most cases of simple mechanical back pain due to musculoligamentous soft tissue strain injuries will resolve within one to two weeks with explanation and encouragement, early mobilisation without bed rest (

' d o n ' t t a k e b a c k p a i n l y i n g d o w n ) and simple analgesics, aided where indicated by a short course of physical therapy concentrating on early mobilisation and an active exercise program, and patient education regarding good back strategies. Plain radiographs for patients with persisting chronic pain rarely are of clear cut diagnostic value, but may show loss of disc height, gas formation in the nucleus pulposus, adjacent vertebral marginal sclerosis and osteophytes, or other radiological signs of lumbar vertebral spondylosis affecting the facet joints. However, similar radiological signs or evidence of minor spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis are also present commonly in nonsymptomatic middle-aged or elderly people. MRI is the investigation of choice for defining spinal pathology when surgery is being considered. Surgery is, however, indicated in only a very small percentage of patients with low back pain and it is quite rare to demonstrate treatable new pathology in patients with chronic low back pain, which has lasted for more than a year. Associated job dissatisfaction, depression, obesity and socioeconomic deprivation are commonly found in such instances. Long-term treatments with laser, shortwave diathermy, ultrasound, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, formal physiotherapy or chiropractic have not convincingly been demonstrated to have other than placebo effects. The effects of repeated image-guided facet joint, epidural or nerve root foraminal injections of local anaesthetic or corticosteroids are also disappointing in the long-term. Percutaneous semisurgical procedures (radiofrequency rhizolysis) also seem of little convincing long-term value. Surgical techniques have improved in the small group of patients requiring surgery, and release surgery for focal major nerve root compressions confirmed by imaging can be dramatically effective. By contrast, spinal fusion techniques for chronic low back pain are various, results can seldom be guaranteed and persisting pain after surgery is common.


048 Performance Guidelines

Condition 048 Fever and a recent rash in a 30-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's diagnostic approach to a young man presenting with fever and rash of 48 hours duration with signs of splenomegaly and lymphadenopathy.

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Opening statement:

'I think I may have developed an infection. ' •

Follow with: ~ You have been feeling unwell for two days. ~ You have a fever and a sore throat. ~ You have also developed a rash over the past one to two days. ~ The rash is all over your body, and is especially apparent on the face and trunk.

In response to questions the doctor may ask: ~ The rash is not itchy. ~ You have 'aches and pains' throughout your body in the legs, arms and back. ~ You have a headache and bright lights hurt your eyes. ~ You have previously considered your health to be good. ~ You have had no serious past illnesses or family history of relevance. ~ You have no allergies and take no medications. ~ No history of mental illness, no history of blood transfusion. ~ You do not use injectable drugs. ~ You have been in a sexual relationship with another man for two years and have been having anal sex without condoms for a few months now. You have also had a number of casual sexual relationships in the past six months. ~ You have never had an HIV test in the past.

Answer the doctor's questions honestly. Be open about your homosexuality but do not reveal this without specific questioning by the doctor. Be very concerned about the possibility of HIV infection when this is mentioned, and anxious to proceed with investigations at once. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The key to diagnosis is the history of unprotected anal sex. •

Approach to patient: the history should be taken and diagnostic possibilities discussed in a matter of fact and nonjudgmental way. Support for the patient should be shown when the possible seriousness of his condition is discussed.

History: must obtain detailed sexual history.

Explanation to patient: his condition is possibly due to one of a number of viral infections, such as infectious mononucleosis. However, the most likely infection is with human immune deficiency virus (HIV) and this must be confirmed or excluded by laboratory investigations. These must include HIV serology.


048 Performance Guidelines

Informed consent is required for HIV testing: ensure patient has pretest counselling. ~ Laboratory tests may not be clear during time of acute seroconversion illness and may require consultation with HIV laboratory and/or specialist unit to manage his condition. ~ If HIV infection is confirmed, referral to a specialist infectious diseases unit is required for management during seroconversion illness. ~ Other tests are indicated (see differential diagnosis) and the candidate may mention other viral causes of this patient's fever, rash, sore throat, lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. ~ The examiner should intervene at this stage and say: 'We should now discuss the differential

diagnosis and appropriate investigations. ' •

Differential diagnosis apart from HIV: ~ Epstein-Barr virus infection; ~ secondary syphilis; ~ toxoplasmosis; ~ rubella; ~ cytomegalovirus (CMV); ~ herpes simplex infection; ~ disseminated gonococcal infection; ~ hepatitis A. B, C, D or E; and ~ other viral infections.

Investigations — these are related to the differential diagnosis and should include: ~ full blood examination and Epstein-Barr serology: ~ tests for rubella, CMV infection and toxoplasmosis; ~ Venereal Disease Research Laboratories/syphilis serology; ~ liver function tests; and ~ tests for hepatitis A,B,C,D or E. KEY ISSUES

• History must include sexual history • Investigations must include HIV serology. • Differential diagnosis must include HIV infection. • Approach to patient must discuss informed consent for HIV testing. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to consider HIV infection as a likely cause of this patient's presentation. • Failure to discuss informed consent for HIV testing.


048 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY Diagnosis of HIV infection requires a careful history to identify potential high-risk behaviour and recognition of the constellation of clinical symptoms and signs. The rash of acute HIV infection is usually an erythematous, maculopapular rash. From 40-90% of patients who have acquired HIV infection will develop an acute febrile illness within the first six weeks of infection, often sooner. Common symptoms include: fever, night sweats, malaise, myalgia, arthralgia, headache, photophobia and sore throat. Neurological manifestations including headache and photophobia are common as well as transient neurological signs including peripheral neuritis and other central nervous system manifestations. These symptoms usually last for less than two weeks. Other nonspecific viral sequelae such as mucosal ulceration, desquamation and herpes simplex may also occur. Acute symptoms are self-limiting. The condition resembles infectious mononucleosis but is seronegative for infectious mononucleosis. Chronic lethargy, depression and irritability may persist after initial illness. Key to diagnosis in this patient is checking for recent risk exposure history of unprotected oral or anal sex. reuse of contaminated needles or other exposure, such as occupational exposure.


049 Performance Guidelines

Condition 049 A heart murmur in a 4-year-old boy AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose an innocent heart murmur in a young child and to advise a concerned parent. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS Opening statement: 'What is the matter with my child?' The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are the parent of an only child, puzzled and concerned at being told that the child may have something the matter with his heart. Be prepared to accept reassurance if the explanation is adequate. If not, insist on referral and ask what tests might be performed. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE This is almost certainly an innocent murmur. No concerning symptoms or signs are present which might suggest an alternative diagnosis. Parents need reassurance that the child is normal and that normal physical activity is allowed. Referral to a paediatrician/paediatric cardiologist is only indicated if parents wish it, or seem unconvinced. The consultant would consider echocardiography. It would be reasonable do to a chest X-ray and ECG, depending on degree of parental concern. This is unlikely to show any abnormality and may be reassuring, and may then render unnecessary further referral to a cardiologist. KEY ISSUES • Ability to assess confidently the features of an innocent heart murmur. • Avoidance of unnecessary extensive investigation. CRITICAL ERROR - none defined COMMENTARY Cardiac murmurs in young children are very common. It is estimated that careful auscultation under ideal circumstances will detect an innocent soft murmur in over 50% of normal four-year-olds. Hence medical facilities would be overwhelmed if all of these murmurs were referred for specialist assessment. Primary care physicians should be confident in distinguishing innocent functional murmurs from those that are associated with an organic heart lesion. Rheumatic fever in our community is unusual these days unless practising in areas where large numbers of Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander peoples are treated. So the usual task is to differentiate an innocent murmur from one due to an organic heart lesion, most likely of congenital origin.


049 Performance Guidelines

As in many situations in paediatrics, the diagnosis can usually be determined by a careful history and examination. The child with an innocent murmur, is well and thriving, has a normal exercise tolerance, is not cyanosed, and does not suffer from recurrent chest infections. Physical examination reveals: •

a soft midsystolic murmur, which is an almost musical high-pitched murmur at the base of the heart with no radiation;

the murmur varies with posture and respiration, and has no associated thrill; and

the murmur has no diastolic component.

In comparison, an organic murmur may be: •


associated with a palpable thrill;

radiating either to the axilla or neck;

associated with cyanosis; and

associated with significant symptoms.

In determining the possible aetiology, the clinician should seek information along these ines to determine if any of these features exist in the history, and must perform a thorough examination. If all features indicate an innocent heart murmur, no investigations are warranted. The parent should be reassured of the innocent nature of the murmur and that the practitioner will continue to observe the child until the murmur spontaneously disappears, usually between the ages of five and seven years. If the parents are still concerned despite adequate explanation and reassurance, referring the child to a paediatrician who is skilled in assessing murmurs is acceptable. If necessary, the paediatrician will refer the child to a paediatric cardiologist for full cardiological investigations, including echocardiography.


050 Performance Guidelines

Condition 050 A knife wound to the wrist of a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose tendon and nerve injuries in a deep wound EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The knife wound is across the wrist just above the crease line as in the illustration and the candidate can observe this. The examiner will indicate to the candidate 'The bleeding has been stopped by the dressing. Proceed to your examination to ascertain the extent of injury describing your findings to me, the examiner. '

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You have presented to the Emergency Department with a knife wound to the left wrist produced by an assailant after an argument in a pub. You lifted your arm to protect your face and he slashed your wrist with a knife. It bled a lot at first, but your friends reduced this by local pressure and the ambulance staff put on a dressing which controlled the bleeding, but which you think made your hand feel numb. You are unable to move your fingers freely. Specifically, you have lost sensation and muscle power as follows: • Sensation to touch and pin over the whole palmar aspect of your hand, fingers and thumb. The numbness and loss of feeling extends onto the back of the fingers and thumb, over the nails and the end of the joint. • You should hold your hand as depicted in the illustration so all the fingers and thumb are stretched out straight. When asked to flex your fingers and thumb, you are unable to do so at the end two joints of the thumb, and unable to bend any of the three joints of your four fingers. You are able to stretch them out straight again if the candidate bends them forwards. • You also cannot flex your wrist (bend it forward), but are able to extend it (bend your wrist back). • If asked to put your thumb across to touch the other fingers, you cannot move the other fingers towards the thumb (cannot bend fingers and thumbs inwards towards the palm); and you cannot move the thumb across the palm towards the base of the ring and little fingers. • If asked to do the movement of abduction of the thumb by lifting the thumb away from the palm, you cannot. • You can only move the thumb outwards and away from the other fingers in the plane of the palm. • If asked to hold a card between your fingers, or to move your little finger away from the others, you cannot.


050 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate is expected to diagnose accurately the deep and extensive injury to: •

the median nerve

the ulnar nerve.

all of the following flexor tendons, which have been severed above the wrist: ~ wrist flexors: f l e x o r c a r p i r a d i a l i s , u l n a r i s , ( p a l m a r i s l o n g u s ) ~ finger flexors -

f l e x o r d i g l t o r u m s u p e r f i c i a l l s to all four fingers (normally flexes proximal inter-phalangeal [PIP] joint)


f l e x o r d i g l t o r u m p r o f u n d u s to all four fingers (normally flexes distal interphalangeal [DIP] joint)

~ thumb flexor: f l e x o r p o l l i c i s l o n g u s (normally flexes thumb interphalangeal [IP] joint). •

Arteries — probably one or both, but these injuries have not disturbed the viability of the hand.

Neurologic effects — Paralysis of all thenar and hypothenar small muscles of the hand preventing ~ palmar abduction of the thumb ( a b d u c t o r p o l l i c i s b r e v i s — median nerve) ~ abduction of little finger ( a b d u c t o r d i g i t i m i n i m i — ulnar nerve) ~ flexion of metacarpophalangeal [MP] joints of fingers (lumbricals, interossei — ulnar and median nerves); and of MP joint of thumb (flexor pollicis brevis) ~ abduction/adduction of fingers (interossei — ulnar nerve) ~ opposition — median and ulnar nerves ~ ulnar adduction of the thumb (adductor pollicis — ulnar nerve)

Sensory loss is of combined median/ulnar nerve injury.

Knowledgeable candidates may recognise that the dorsal cutaneous branch of the ulnar nerve has been spared. Candidates are expected to conduct a logical and systematic examination to detect nerve, tendon and vascular injury. Candidates should achieve the diagnosis of combined median and ulnar nerve and flexor tendon injury. Knowledge of all of the individual muscle groups is not expected but candidates should be aware of the effects of median and ulnar nerve division and the appropriate tests (sensory and motor) to detect these. Candidates should also be expected to recognise that the failure to flex the distal joints of the fingers and thumb are due to concomitant tendon injury, and not to the effects of nerve damage to median and ulnar nerves at the level of the cut just above the wrist. At the end of the candidate's commentary, or at seven minutes, the examiner will ask:

'Why is he unable to hold a card between his fingers?'

'Why is he unable to flex the end joints of fingers or

~ Answer: Because the ulnar nerve injury has paralysed the interossei.

thumb?' ~ Answer: Because the long tendons have been damaged. KEY ISSUES •

Ability to correctly identify the structures damaged, by an appropriately focused examination.


050 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to identify the combination of nerve and tendon injury.

COMMENTARY Cuts to the wrist and hands from knives, glass breakages and other sharp items need careful evaluation to identify damage to important underlying structures, particularly major blood vessels, nerves and tendons. Of the three main nerves of the arm (median, ulnar and radial), the median and ulnar nerves run to the hand on the volar aspect of forearm and wrist, carrying motor fibres to the intrinsic short muscles of the hand, sensory fibres to the vital grasping surfaces of thumb and fingers, and autonomic sympathetic fibres subserving sweating and vasomotor responses. The median nerve, as its name implies, runs a midline course throughout the forearm and lies in close proximity to the tendon of flexor digitorum superficialis running to the middle finger. The important sensory and motor branches are given off after the nerves have entered the hand by passing under (median nerve) or around (ulnar nerve) the carpal tunnel. The ulnar nerve lies more deeply on the ulnar side of forearm and wrist flanking the ulnar artery on the surface of the deep long flexor muscle (flexor digitorum profundus). Clearly both nerves were at risk from the cut illustrated. The superficial terminal branch of the radial nerve, by contrast, is at this stage a much less important nerve, with no motor fibres. It runs to the back of the hand and fingers along the radial side of the forearm, supplying sensation to the dorsum of hand and only the backs of the radial three digits for a short way along their length. The ulnar nerve gives a dorsal sensory branch to supply the other one and a half or two ulnar digits. If you extend your thumb and tense the tendon of extensor pollicis longus you may be able to feel the terminal branch of the radial nerve crossing the snuff box superficial to the taut tendon by running your finger along the tendon. The radial nerve is thus unlikely to have been at risk. Testing for damage to the other two nerves is usually easy and rapid with a cooperative patient.

Median nerve The pulp of the index finger is virtually always supplied by the median nerve. Can the patient feel you touch here (with a blunt pin, or wool, or your own finger)? The pulp of the little finger similarly is supplied by the ulnar nerve, so repeat the process there to check for ulnar nerve damage. To confirm your suspicions, now check the motor functions — the median nerve first. In checking for motor paralysis due to nerve injury, think of the muscles innervated by the nerve distal to the injury, find an action which is performed by one muscle only, check that action, and if possible, see and feel the responsible muscle contracting. For median nerve, abductor pollicis brevis (APB), the short abductor of the thumb, is virtually always supplied by the median nerve just after entering the palm. You test its action by asking the patient to move the thumb directly upwards, with the palm flat, away from the palm and the other fingers, keeping the thumb inside the margin of the index finger so the thumb pushes straight up against resistance.


050 Performance Guidelines

That movement is palmar abduction. Only APB can perform it, you can test the power and you can see and feel the muscle contract. The branch to the muscle is given off immediately after the median nerve enters the palm after passing under the flexor retinaculum. In patients with longstanding carpal tunnel syndrome with median nerve compression affecting the motor fibres as they go through the tunnel the muscle may waste and atrophy as illustrated elsewhere in the book. But don't of course expect wasting, or the deformities arising from such wasting, in an acute injury. The ulnar nerve has a much greater effect on the motor function of the hand than does the median — it supplies at least a dozen important small muscles, compared to the handful from median (conversely the sensory loss from median nerve injury is much more significant than from ulnar nerve damage). Use two tests here — they will help remind you of the muscles involved. •

Can the patient abduct the little finger away from the other fingers against resistance? This is done by

Can the patient hold a piece of paper between outstretched fingers? This is done by the interossei, all

abductor digiti minimi, supplied by ulnar nerve by its deep palmar branch. supplied by the ulnar nerve. There are many other tests for other muscles supplied by the ulnar nerve — pinch test for adductorpollicis (Froment sign), the deficiencies seen in opposition (Sunderland sign), and so on — but further tests are not needed, having already made the diagnosis of an injured ulnar nerve at wrist level or above, corresponding to the site of the cut. In cooperative patients, this is easy and conclusive — but supposing the patient was drunk and uncooperative, or stuporous, or a young child, and cannot or will not cooperate with you. In this case you can still diagnose a nerve injury from effects on the sympathetic efferent fibres. If the nerve carrying them is cut, they too will be paralysed, and the affected skin in the distribution of the nerve will be dry and unable to sweat. This can be demonstrated elegantly by sprinkling a starch powder over the skin and observing the colour change. Also check if any differences can be seen or felt distal to the cut compared to the other hand — a small point but sometimes quite helpful. Next check for damage to the next important group of structures — the long tendons to the thumb and fingers and the tendons to the wrist. These lie in three layers from superficial to deep. •

The wrist flexors: ~ Flexor carpi radialis — the largest and most visible tendon ~ Flexor carpi ulnaris — the most ulnar sided ~ The inconstant palmaris longus between them.

You can check these by asking the patient to flex his wrist. If he can do so. he may of course be using deeper finger flexors, which because they cross multiple joints, can act as accessory flexors of the wrist. In this instance no wrist flexion is possible. •

The superficial and deep long flexor tendons to thumb and fingers. Flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS) and profundus (FDP), each with four tendons, and the solitary tendon of flexor pollicis longus (FPL). ~ FDS — This group of four tendons to index, middle, ring and little fingers flexes the proximal interphalangeal joints. It is difficult to test their independent action becauseof the last and deepest layer — flexor digitorum profundus; these can act as accessory flexors of the more proximal joints, which they also cross to reach the end of the digit The deepest tendons are prime movers of the most distal joints of thumb and fingers.


050 Performance Guidelines

~ FDP and FPL — Test the abilities to flex the end joints of the digits first — thumb index through to little finger. In this patient, no spontaneous movement against resistance is possible — all of these deep tendons have been severed. Clearly given this finding, it is very likely that the more superficially placed flexor digitorum superficialis tendons have been also severed, and you will find this confirmed when you test the ability of the patient to flex the proximal interphalangeal joint (which in the absence of action of FDP is left as the only muscle which can flex the joint). Identifying damage to the flexor digitorum superficialis in the finger is easy in this patient with a cut wrist, because the flexor digitorum profundus is also cut and cannot confuse things by itself acting as a flexor of the proximal IP joint. But what if the FDP is not damaged? How can the action of flexor digitorum superficialis on the PIP joint be checked in such circumstances if the sole injury is to FDS? Answer: To test the action of the superficial finger flexors in the presence of intact deep flexors is a difficult task and needs a knowledge of the anatomical arrangements of the muscles, and in particular, the deep layer of flexor digitorum profundus. Note that with fingers extended, it is possible to flex the index finger at its end joint independent of other fingers, just as with the end joint of the thumb. But to flex the end joint of the middle, ring or little finger alone is rather difficult — the end joints of adjacent fingers tend also to flex, unless concentrating or holding them down. This is because, of the four separate tendons of FDP in relation to the muscle, the one to the index finger is virtually a separate muscle (flexor indicis), whereas the other tendons are communally joined until just above the wrist This fact can be used to advantage to eliminate the influence of the deeper tendons of FDP to these three fingers on the proximal joint as follows — try this trick. Hold down flat all fingers but one of a colleague, then ask them to flex the remaining finger at the proximal IP joint to a right angle as illustrated. By restraining the long tendons of FDP to the other fingers, and preventing their movement, you have very effectively inactivated the remaining FDP tendon to the middle finger. You can easily check that FDP is not having any effect by flicking the terminal phalanx with your finger — note that the distal IP joint is freely floppy and the only muscle now causing flexion of the PIP joint is FDS.

CONDITION 050. FIGURE 2. Testing for

function of FDS alone


050 Performance Guidelines

An injury to the long flexor tendons should have already been suspected in this patient on inspection alone. In the normal hand at rest, the fingers and thumb are progressively flexed into the palm from index to little finger with the thumb at right angles as illustrated. This is the position of rest of the hand with a balanced postural tone of flexors and extensors. In your patient (a trained role player) the fingers are extended instead of curled and the thumb is also extended, and the whole hand looks very unnatural; because the imbalance caused by the unopposed natural resting tension of the finger extensors, with all the long flexors cut, has distorted the normal position of rest.

CONDITION 050. FIGURE 3. CONDITION 050. FIGURE 4. Figures 3 and 4 show position of rest from palmar and radial aspects

CONDITION 050. FIGURE 5. Note position of fingers and thumb after long tendon injury The inabilities to move the terminal two joints of the fingers and the terminal jointot the thumb are not, and could not be, due to the injury to the median or ulnar nerves

The branches to the extrinsic long flexors come off from much higher in the forearm and are unaffected by nerve injury at the wrist, which can only affect the function of intrinsic muscles in the hand. These effects on the terminal joints are due to tendon injuries.


050 Performance Guidelines

Moving proximally, also note that he cannot flex the metacarpophalangeal joints of the fingers (or of the thumb). This action in the fingers is done by the lumbricals, supplied by branches from median and ulnar nerves in the palm, and this inability is due to the nerve damage, as are all the other tests for intrinsic muscle function testing thenar and hypothenar muscles and interossei apart from those we have already done. These additional tests also give characteristic signs: on attempted ulnar adduction, pinch test of the thumb (Froment sign) and failure of opposition of little finger (Sunderland sign). These latter signs are accentuated and even more obvious in patients with longstanding effects of muscle wasting, which need not concern us further in this patient. The most superficial muscles are the wrist flexors FCR and FCU and PL. The patient cannot flex the wrist actively either because all of these are divided as well (plus the long finger and thumb flexors which can of course act as accessory flexors of the wrist as well as prime movers of their respective finger or thumb joints). Finally the blood vessels — the very superficial radial artery and more deeply placed ulnar artery. These are very likely both to have been cut but vascular spasm and compression may have caused bleeding to stop. Examine the colour of the fingers and test capillary refilling after pressure, but the anastomoses and collateral circulation across the wrist are very efficient and it is very unlikely that the hand will be grossly ischaemic even if both arteries have been divided. The final diagnosis, after checking that sensation to the back of the hand and proximal back of fingers is intact, confirming that radial nerve and dorsal branch of ulnar nerve have escaped injury, is: Severe deep knife wound of wrist severing all volar long flexor tendons to wrist and hand and severing median and ulnar nerves — a very severe injury requiring early reconstructive surgery. Fortunately this is a 'tidy' wound without major contamination and there is no contraindication to primary repair. Treatment will necessarily require a subsequent intensive rehabilitation programme of initial rest, with early mobilisation and supportive physiotherapy over many months. The final functional outcome will be very much influenced by his occupation — if he is a concert pianist, thoughts about vocational retraining should start early.


051 Performance Guidelines

Condition 051 Multiple skin lesions in a Queensland family AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose a variety of common benign and 'suspicious' skin lesions and to advise on management. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS A careful history of how long the lesions had been present would normally be required; this scenario focuses on pattern recognition from physical appearance. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The farmer is very concerned about six members of the family and has photographs of each of the lesions. He has come in from his farm, which is a long way from the town. The photographs demonstrate: •

Figure 1. His son has a lesion suspicious of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the lip.

Figure 2. His 50-year-old brother has a lesion suspicious of basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Figure 3. His father has a seborrhoeic keratosis on his face, which is benign.

Figure 4. His wife has a lesion suspicious of malignant melanoma of the leg.

of the neck.

Figure 5. His 52-year-old brother has a benign spider naevus of the chest.

Figure 6. His daughter has a lesion suggestive of a benign melanocytic dermal naevus of the face.

The SCC, BCC and melanoma, assuming diagnosis is confirmed by excision, are malignant The seborrhoeic keratosis, the spider naevus and the melanocytic dermal naevus are benign and probably require just reassurance. His wife, who has the malignant melanoma, requires the most urgent treatment. The excision of her lesion should not be delayed, even though she would prefer to delay treatment for several months because they are busy on the farm. The SCC and the BCC should also be removed without excessive delay. The BCC only spreads directly, but local infiltration may be extensive, although this occurs slowly. The SCC spreads directly and mainly by lymphatics, and occasionally by blood spread. Malignant melanoma is the most serious of the lesions and spreads locally, by lymphatics and by blood spread. Widespread metastases can occur even from a small lesion. The risk of spread is proportional to the depth of the melanoma seen on microscopic examination. The prognosis is favourable if the depth is less than 0.75 mm. KEY ISSUES •

The candidate should indicate which lesions are likely to be benign (seborrhoeic keratosis, melanocytic dermal naevus and spider naevus) and do not have to be excised; and which are suspicious of malignancy (SCC, BCC and melanoma) and should be excised.


051 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to suspect that the wife's lesion is a malignant melanoma, and that surgical excision should occur without delay.

COMMENTARY This scenario illustrates six of the most common focal cutaneous lesions seen in the Australian population (benign melanocytic naevus, seborrhoeic keratosis, spider naevus, basal cell cancer, squamous ceil cancer, malignant melanoma). Clearly benign, longstanding lesions are the most commonly seen pigmented skin 'moles'; and most can be confidently diagnosed.

Benign skin lesions: Benign melanocytic naevi (intradermal, junctional and compound) These are classified according to the site of the benign pigment-containing melanocytes. Junctional naevi have melanocytes at the junction of epidermis and dermis, they are flatter than the other more mature naevi and may be wholly macular. Intradermal and compound naevi have melanocytes intradermally, or at both epidermal and dermal levels. Macroscopically they vary from a light or dark brown nodule (often containing hair, a helpful diagnostic point — hairy moles are almost invariably benign).



Benign melanocytic naevus

Benign melanocytic naevus of neck

Seborrhoeic keratoses ('seborrhoeic warts') These lesions arise from the epidermis as the result of proliferation of keratinocytes. They are often multiple. There is no dermal involvement and the keratoses are so superficial that they are often said to have a 'painted on' appearance. Seborrhoeic keratoses occur in older people and are most often found on the trunk, although they may be found on the face and scalp. The lesions are raised or flat and plaque-like, with a waxy texture. Haemosiderin deposition in the plaques may produce a brownish-black colour. Occasionally the lesion may be situated on a part of the body that makes it prone to trauma, but the only real reason for excision of a seborrhoeic keratosis is for cosmetic purposes. They are quite benign and their fissured, variegated, rough textured appearance usually allows confident diagnosis.


051 Performance Guidelines



Multiple seborrhoeic keratoses of trunk

Seborrhoeic keratoses of back

Spider naevi These small lesions have a red central spot surrounded by flaring telangiectases. Pressure on the central arteriole causes blanching. Multiple ones on the upper trunk, upper limbs, or face can be stigmata of alcoholic liver disease.

Papillomas Otherwise known as skin tags, papillomas may be found at any site and are either sessile or pedunculated overgrowths of skin seen frequently around flexural areas of axilla or groin. They may be excised for cosmetic reasons.

Pyogenic granulomas These lesions may arise in response to minor trauma. At the site of puncture of the skin there is a mass of rapidly growing granulation tissue which characteristically forms an exophytic growth. This may appear over a few weeks and bleeds easily on contact. Treatment is by excision and curettage of the area underlying the granuloma.



Pyogenic granuloma of palm

Pyogenic granuloma of finger


051 Performance Guidelines

Verrucae Verrucae are most commonly seen in children and are caused by viruses. Common sites are hands and soles of feet. The lesions may spread to adjacent sites or other individuals. They consist of raised and rounded keratinised projections above the skin surface. Those on the sole are commonly 'endophytic' due to weight-bearing. Histologically there is hyperplasia of the epidermis and increased keratinisation. Treatment can be difficult, as the verruca is likely to return if the virus is not completely eradicated. As many verrucae will completely regress, if the lesions are asymptomatic, they are better left alone. Those warts that occur around the genital and perineal regions are known as condyloma acuminata. They are caused by the human papilloma virus and spread by sexual contact. Keratoacanthomas These lesions are characterised by rapid growth, a macroscopic appearance resembling a squamous cell carcinoma and spontaneous regression. A keratoacanthoma usually occurs on the face (often on the nose or ear) or hand and appears over the course of a few weeks. The centre of the lesion ulcerates and may contain a plug of keratin. Histologically these lesions can resemble squamous cell carcinoma, but are identified by a central core of proliferating cells extending down into the dermis. The site of the tumour and its rapid development should make the diagnosis. Keratoacanthomas should be excised and sent for histologic examination to exclude squamous cell carcinoma. Accurate histologic diagnosis is usually possible if the whole lesion is provided; only a small margin of excision is required.


Keratoacanthoma of face Fibrohistiocytic tumours: dermatofibroma, xanthoma There is a considerable histological range of soft tissue tumours and the two benign lesions that may be considered of true skin origin are the cutaneous fibrous histiocytoma (dermatofibroma) and the xanthoma. A dermatofibroma is a relatively common skin nodule and typically occurs on the legs of young or middle-aged women.


051 Performance Guidelines


Dermatofibroma of leg The lesions are usually raised from the skin surface and about 1 cm in diameter. Most are asymptomatic but they can be itchy and tender which is the usual reason for excision. Xanthomas occur when an area of skin becomes infiltrated by lipid-filled macrophages or histiocytes. They may occur at any site on the body and the most common form is the xanthelasma. These soft, yellow plaques are characteristically found at the inner canthus of the palpebral fissure. Appendage tumours Cylindromas (arising from sweat gland cells) and other skin appendage tumours are rare. Treatment is excision, to confirm the diagnosis. Premalignant neoplasms of skin: Actinic keratoses Actinic (solar) keratoses are the result of solar damage and are characteristically found on areas of the body most at risk of prolonged sun exposure. The back of the hand is a common site. The lesions occur most frequently in older people and those who work outdoors. Fair skinned people living in the tropics and subtropics are most at risk. The actinic keratosis represents a gradual dysplastic change in the epidermis and underlying dermis. There is a build-up of excessive keratin in the epidermis and elastosis in the dermis. Actinic keratoses appear as scaly lesions with hyperaemic bases that bleed easily with trauma. They can be treated by cryotherapy, application of a cytotoxic cream or excision. Left untreated, 15-20% of actinic keratoses will progress to squamous cell carcinoma.

CONDITION 051. FIGURE 15. Multiple

actinic keratoses of hands


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Bowen disease This is an unusual condition and presents as a scaly red plaque with clearly defined margins. The surface is keratotic and often crusted and fissured. The lesion is not related to solar damage and in some instances arsenicals have been implicated in the aetiology Bowen disease may occur on any part of the body and is a premalignant condition and represents squamous cell carcinoma in-situ. There is hyperplasia of the epidermis, atypical epithelial cells are present and infiltration of this layer with pleomorphic malpighian and giant cells. Treatment is with cryotherapy or cytotoxic creams. Larger lesions and those that are suspicious or frankly malignant are best treated by excision. Skin grafting may be required.

Malignant skin neoplasms

7 49333535

CONDITION 051. FIGURE 16. Bowen disease of skin

The skin is the largest organ of the human body and not surprisingly it is the most common site of tumours. Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in fair-skinned people. Tumours can arise from any of the skin structures — epidermis, dermis, connective tissue, glands, and muscle or nerve elements. Although not all skin tumours are neoplastic, from a management perspective, the suspicion of malignancy must always be uppermost in the clinician's mind when dealing with a skin tumour, be it pigmented or not.

Malignant skin lesions are very common in Australia with a susceptible population and excessive solar exposure. By contrast, melanoma and other skin malignancies are uncommon in indigenous Aboriginal peoples. Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) This is the most common type of skin cancer and is almost totally confined to fair skinned people. Basal cell carcinomas are rare in Asiatic peoples and almost never occur in dark skinned people. They tend to occur in people over the age of 40 and are usually found on areas of the body subject to chronic exposure to the sun, particularly the face. Characteristically these tumours are found on the face above an imaginary line running from the corner of the mouth to the ear. The tumours are slow-growing and may take years to get to sufficient size to bother the patient. Left untreated, a basal cell carcinoma will spread relentlessly and destroy all the surrounding tissues without ever metastasising. The tumour characteristically has a raised, rolled edge which often takes on a pearly appearance. Most basal cell carcinomas are the same colour as the adjacent skin, but some are heavily pigmented and mistaken for


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melanomas. There may be central regression of the tumour with ulceration, producing the so-called 'rodent ulcer.' Other morphological patterns of basal cell carcinomas include those resembling Bowen disease with a thin pink plaque (erythematous basal cell carcinoma) and those known as sclerosing tumours with white plaque and a fine pearly edge (morphoea carcinoma). The erythematous variety of basal cell carcinoma tends to occur on the trunk. Apart from nodular BCC (the most common presentation), ulcerative, sclerosing/cicatrising ('brush-fire'), cystic, psoriatiform, comedoform and pigmented variations are commonly seen.

CONDITION 051. FIGURES 17 AND 18. Morphoeic BCC Ulcerative BCC

CONDITION 051. FIGURES 19 AND 20. Sclerosing BCC behind ear Pigmented BCC Small basal cell carcinoma can be treated by cryotherapy, topical chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is used for cancers in areas where surgical resection would be difficult and risk damage to surrounding structures, such as tear ducts and eyelids. Radiotherapy should not be used for lesions adjacent to cartilage, which might undergo radionecrosis. The major disadvantage of these types of treatment is that no tissue is obtained for histological analysis. The optimum treatment for basal cell carcinomas — and particularly for lesions greater than 1 cm diameter — is surgical excision. A margin of at least 1 mm of normal tissue is required. To minimise tissue loss, particularly for lesions on the face, a technique of serial slicing can be employed. Whilst this is time-consuming, the serial excision and immediate microscopic examination of the resected tissue will allow an intraoperative assessment of clearance of tumour in depth and width. Larger basal cell carcinomas will require skin grafting a reconstructive surgery.


Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) These are the second most common cancer of the skin. Whilst basal cell carcinomas arise from the basal layers, squamous cell carcinomas arise from the keratinocytes of the epidermis. Sunlight is an important aetiological factor and solar keratoses and Bowen disease are precursors. Squamous cell cancers can also occur in scars or chronic ulcers (Marjolin ulcer). Most squamous cell carcinomas occur in the fair skinned people, but these tumours are also found in darker-skinned people, particularly in depigmented skin following scarring. These cancers are usually seen in the older population, but with excessive sun exposure in childhood, squamous cell carcinoma is also a disease of young adults. As most of the tumours are sun exposure-related, they tend to occur on exposed parts of the body, particularly the head and the hands and on the lips, invariably involve the lower lip. On the ears, squamous cell cancers occur particularly on the outer helix, in contrast to BCC which occur in the retroareolar sulcus.



Squamous cell carcinoma of lip

SCC of ear

Squamous cell carcinoma has a variable natural history. Those tumours that arise from actinic keratoses can be quite slow growing, while those that complicate Bowen disease tend to be more aggressive. Whilst a squamous cell carcinoma can morphologically resemble a basal cell carcinoma, the crucial difference is the ability of the former to metastasise. Optimal treatment of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is surgical excision. Although the tumours do metastasise to lymph nodes there is no evidence that prophylactic lymph node dissection confers any benefit. For those patients who undergo a curative resection, the prognosis is good, with a 95% 5-year survival rate. Malignant melanomas The most malignant of all skin tumours, more common in exposed skin, occurring throughout adult life, particularly prevalent in fair-skinned populations of tropical climates, but incidence is increasing in most countries. Any brown or black mole showing an increase in size, irritation, bleeding, nodularity or ulceration should be regarded as suspect and should be excised with an adequate margin Spread to regional nodes is common and markedly worsens prognosis. Bloodborne metastases to lungs, liver, brain and small bowel are common. Prognosis worsens with increasing depth of invasion. Several macroscopic types are recognised with progressively worsening prognosis.


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Hutchinson melanotic freckle (lentigo maligna melanoma)

Superficial spreading melanoma (most common type)

Nodular melanoma

• Nonpigmented amelanotic melanoma. Kaposi sarcoma Classical Kaposi sarcoma is found in elderly males of Mediterranean or East European origin and tends to run an indolent course. The disease associated with AIDS and other acquired immunodeficiency states runs a more aggressive course. Kaposi sarcoma is a spindle cell tumour and is characteristically a multicentric angiomatous lesion of the skin. The lesions vary in appearance from nodule or macule to plaque and may be several centimetres in diameter. In its aggressive form the body may be covered in confluent, violaceous skin nodules.

CONDITION 051. FIGURE 26. Kaposi sarcoma


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Visceral involvement is uncommon with the classical form of Kaposi sarcoma, but gastrointestinal and pulmonary disease often occurs in AIDS-related Kaposi tumour. Localised cutaneous lesions can be treated with radiotherapy, cryotherapy, intralesional chemotherapy or topical retinoids. Other primary cutaneous tumours Malignant histiocytoma (dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans) is a lesion with a tendency to biphasic growth spurts and local recurrence after excision.

CONDITION 051. FIGURE 27. Malignant histiocytoma

There are numerous other uncommon primary cutaneous tumours, but only three need to be considered because of their similarity to basal cell carcinoma. The three are Merkel cell carcinoma, microcystic adnexal carcinoma and sebaceous gland carcinoma Merkel cell carcinoma is of neuroendocrine origin and is an aggressive tumour with a high rate of local recurrence. It may resemble a basal cell carcinoma, both in its appearance and preferential distribution on the head and neck. The other two tumours are rare, slow growing and prone to local recurrence if not adequately excised. Secondary tumours The skin is a common site of metastatic deposits, particular for aerodigestive tract neoplasms. In most instances the skin deposits will only become manifest after the primary disease has been diagnosed or treated. Occasionally, a cutaneous metastasis may be the presenting feature of an otherwise asymptomatic tumour of the lung or oesophagus.


052 Performance Guidelines

Condition 052 Subcutaneous swelling for assessment AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to perform an appropriately focused diagnostic examination of a subcutaneous lump. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: The case scenario is a real patient with a longstanding subcutaneous swelling — the findings and diagnosis are to be checked by the examiner personally prior to commencement of the examination. The lump will usually be a lipoma, sebaceous cyst, ganglion or bursa, or occasionally a less common diagnosis. Real patients should just answer questions as asked and will expect to be reassured about conservative treatment being offered, or note advice about possible surgery. Opening statement: 'What is this lump?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Major points of technique and accuracy in examination are • Establishing the lump's physical characteristics — particularly contour and consistency. • 'Layering' the lump — is it in subcutaneous fat, attached to or beneath deep fascia, and if the latter is it arising from muscle, tendon, ligament, bone, nerve or blood vessels? • Does the lump pulsate and is this intrinsic or transmitted pulsation? • What are its attachments? Superficially is it attached to the skin and deeply what are the effects of tensing or contracting underlying muscles or tendons. • Is it a fluid-filled cystic lump? The most helpful test here will be whether it is transilluminable, a test often inadequately performed. This test must be performed properly by correct torch placement behind the lump and must be done by suitably darkening the surrounds — turning off lights and covering with sheet or blanket as required. When brilliantly positive, it gives irrefutable evidence of contents being liquid or gas. Gas cysts do occur in lung, neck and bowel; but in a subcutaneous site, the fluid will almost always be a liquid, and usually a clear serous liquid (such as in scrotal cystic swellings, bursae and tendon sheath swellings, or branchial cysts) rather than pultaceous material or blood. A negative transillumination sign does not of course exclude a fluid collection as the cyst may contain a complex and viscous fluid, or may have a thick lining.


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Candidates should familiarise themselves with the normal extent of transilluminability of other tissues, which vary rather like the scale of sonicity characteristics of an ultrasound. Try illuminating the finger and areas of normal skin to see the extent of normal transillumination of fat and other tissues. Lipomas are not transilluminably separate from surrounding fatty tissues, nor are most sebaceous' cysts transilluminable, because the content is viscous or pultaceous keratin. • Testing for fluctuation is often poorly performed also. The lump must be capable of being fixed by two fingers at the perimeter while a third finger compresses it centrally. If the other fingers are displaced and expanded symmetrically, and if this occurs when tested in several directions and in planes at right angles to each other, then this again is irrefutable evidence of contained liquid (by virtue of the incompressibility of liquids which causes transmission of outside pressure in all directions). Lipomas and other soft compressible solids may give an impression of fluctuance, but they do not exhibit true fluctuation, merely effects of deformation. • Ultrasound confirmation and positive yield of liquid on needle aspiration are definitively diagnostic of a cystic collection. In deeper lumps, such as those in breast or thyroid, where neither transillumination nor fluctuation is relevant or possible, these techniques become the best diagnostic aids. • Is the lump vascular? Candidates should not omit feeling for vascular pulsation, or a transmitted venous impulse, or listening for a vascular bruit or hum. Remembering normal vascular surface anatomy makes egregious errors less likely — such as missing an aneurysm. • Does the lump show emptying and refilling after compression or with joint movements? This important sign should alert the clinician to a possible bursal communication with an underlying joint and candidates should know which bursae are likely to communicate with which joints. Test your knowledge of the prepatellar bursa, the suprapatellar bursa, the pretibial bursa, the anserine bursa, the semimembranous bursa and a Baker cyst: all are near the knee joint, but only some communicate with (or are part of) the joint synovium. • Is the lump attached to the skin? If this sign is unequivocally positive, the lump is very likely to be a 'sebaceous' cyst or one of its variants, like a pilomatrixoma ('calcifying epithelioma of Malherbe'). This sign is sometimes easy to elicit and is accompanied by obvious skin dimpling or a punctum. But often, in areas where the skin is thick and relatively fixed to deeper layers such as on the back of neck or scalp, the test is equivocal and the clinician must rely on other findings such as contour and consistency to help diagnose subcutaneous lumps, and to differentiate between lipomas and keratinous 'sebaceous' cysts. At the end of the candidate's examination, or after five minutes, the examiner will: ASK — 'What is your diagnosis?' ASK — 'I s there any significant risk of malignant change?'JUe answer is NO for lipomas, sebaceous cysts, ganglia and bursae. ASK — 'I s there any significant risk of infection?' The answer is YES for infection complicating bursae and sebaceous cysts, but not lipomas or ganglia. ADVISE the candidate

'please counsel your patient about the lump. '


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KEY ISSUES The candidate should be able to: •

Perform an appropriately focused and accurate physical examination of the subcutaneous lump. An appropriate and optimal examination will determine in which tissue layer the lump lies, its physical shape, size, contour and consistency, and its relationship to adjacent anatomical structures such as skin, muscle and tendons, joints, vessels and nerves. Testing for skin and deeper attachments and for fluctuation and transillumination, where appropriate, will be observed for technique and accuracy.

Display appropriate reasoning skills in making the correct diagnosis: ~ Most lipomas, sebaceous cysts, ganglia and bursae will not be difficult to diagnose. Distinction between sebaceous cysts and lipomas may be easy and aided by diagnostic clues, such as an obvious punctum. and knowledgeable candidates will recognise the differences and the potential risks of infective complications of sebaceous cysts and bursae. ~ Knowledgeable candidates will be able to make a confident diagnosis and to counsel the patient briefly but appropriately. The station is however predominantly to serve as a test of technique and accuracy of physical examination, and of appropriate clinical reasoning skills.


Very unsatisfactory examination technique.

Major errors in accuracy of findings.

COMMENTARY The most common subcutaneous swelling is a lipoma. Sebaceous (epidermoid) cysts, bursae and ganglia are also common. Subcutaneous lipomas (Figures 1 and 2) are slow growing, soft, painless, tabulated and mobile swellings beneath the skin.



Subcutaneous lipoma of back

Subcutaneous lipoma under arm


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Epidermoid Cyst (keratinous cyst, implantation dermoid cyst, pilosebaceous follicle cyst, 'sebaceous cyst')

Epidermal (epidermoid) cysts are common. They can occur at any age and at any site although they tend to be seen in older people and most often on the face, scalp or trunk. They have several different causes. Some are inclusion or implantation cysts, traumatic in origin, and others result from the occlusion of the pilosebaceous unit. Traumatic implantation cysts tend to occur on the hands and fingers. Others will be found at the site of surgical scars. Some epidermoid cysts are associated with hereditary syndromes (e.g. Gardner syndrome). The cyst is lined with squamous epithelium and full of desquamated debris, which has a characteristic soft cheesy texture and offensive odour when infected (Cock peculiar tumour). These cysts are often and mistakenly called 'sebaceous' cysts. A true sebaceous cyst is rare and arises from a sebaceous gland. A keratinous cyst is a preferable term.

CONDITION 052. FIGURE 3. 'Sebaceous' cyst with punctum


An epidermoid cyst tends to be elevated and many, but not all, will have a central punctum. These cysts may discharge or become infected. Uncomplicated cysts may be enucleated, whereas an infected cyst should be incised and drained, with later excision.

CONDITION 052. FIGURE 5. Multiple 'sebaceous' cysts of scrotum

CONDITION 052. FIGURE 6. Large 'sebaceous' cyst of scalp


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'Sebaceous' cysts (Figures 3, 4, 5 and 6) move with and not separate from the skin. They occur within any area of hair-bearing skin. They are usually round, fluctuant and non-transilluminable with a smooth nonlobulated contour which differentiates them from lipomas. The other differentiations (skin attachment versus the subcuticular mobility of lipomas) are not always easy signs to detect in areas of thick skin like the back of the neck - but 'sebaceous' cysts always have a focal point of skin fixation with or without a punctum, and have a round non-lobulated contour. Dermoid cyst (congenital inclusion cyst, hamartomatous cyst) Dermoid cysts can be found as cystic tumours of the ovary or within the cranium and spine and for the purposes of this section, in subcutaneous tissues. Apart from the confusing use of this term, the dermoid cyst is a congenital lesion and those found in the skin and subcutaneous layer usually occur on the face, neck or scalp. They are thin-walled cysts and contain fatty material and occasionally, hair. Although these cysts can appear at any age, those on the face and neck are usually evident at birth. Those on the face occur mainly around the eyes and are often attached to the underlying periosteum. They may also be found in the mouth and upper neck. Dermoid cysts are true hamartomas and develop when skin and skin structures become trapped during embryonic development, such as at lines of fusion anteriorly in the midline and around the eyes in the head and neck. Treatment is by excision. Imaging may be necessary, to assess the degree of involvement of underlying structures. Ganglia (Figures 7, 8 and 9) present as deeply placed subcutaneous lumps around joints or tendon sheaths. They may be made more prominent by tendon contraction or tensing and on joint movement. These are helpful diagnostic tests in the optimal examination sequence of: Look, Move, Feel, Listen. The common ganglia — those around wrist or ankle — do not communicate with the adjacent joints. They are, however, often formed by cystic degenerative change in the fibrous joint capsule or fibrous tendon sheath, so their removal necessitates opening the joint or sheath.


Ganglion of lateral aspect of foot


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CONDITION 052. FIGURES 8 AND 9. Ganglion

of wrist — the most common site Bursae are cystic sacs between the skin and underlying bony prominences or they separate and aid gliding of adjacent tendons and ligaments. Some bursae communicate with joints or tendon sheaths.



Olecranon Bursitis

Double pathology — 'sebaceous' cyst of neck with submandibular salivary gland swelling behind it

Candidates should show appropriate perspective in counselling. Many or most of these lumps require no active treatment other than reassurance. Subcutaneous lumps are very common and typical examples as indicated in the figures. Knowing that the lump has been present for a long time without significant symptoms or change in character is reassuring and makes a benign condition most likely.


053 Performance Guidelines

Condition 053 Examination of the knee of a patient with recurrent painful swelling after injury AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's technique of physical examination of the knee joint and the accuracy of examination.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Opening statement: 'What is wrong with my knee?' You have a history of twisting your right knee six months ago when you caught your foot on a piece of broken pavement. You fell on the right knee which became swollen and painful on the inner side of the knee. The swelling caused a painful limp for a few days then subsided. Since then you have had intermittent attacks of pain felt on the inner side of the right knee with swelling which settles within 24 hours. You have difficulty in straightening your right leg fully and occasionally have apprehension twisting to the right. You are otherwise well and between attacks can walk normally with only a minor feeling of pain on the inner side of your knee. •

You should complain of tenderness at the inner joint line anteriorly when the right knee is examined.

You cannot fully straighten the affected knee because of pain (a deficit of around 15 of extension).

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should examine both knees:

Expected technique of knee examination: •

Checks stance and gait.

Checks active range of movement initially — flexion/extension (range/power) notes positive signs of inability to fully extend affected knee and medial joint tenderness

Checks passive range of movement with care, ensuring that the range of active movement is not exceeded.

Checks for tenderness at joint line and around margins over sites of attachments of collateral ligaments and patellar ligament Should identify tenderness anteriorly, at the joint line, on the inner aspect of the right knee.

Checks for joint effusion (patellar tap' and 'bulge test' for cross fluctuation).

Checks patellofemoral mobility and tracking

Checks integrity of ligaments appropriately: valgus and varus strain to slightly flexed joint for collaterals; anterior and posterior glide (drawer) test for cruciates — all of these are normal


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Checks quadriceps for strength and wasting

Compares symptomatic side with normal side.

Examines back of joint (popliteal fossa) as well as front and sides.

Diagnosis/Differential Diagnosis •

Probable injury to medial intra-articular meniscus (medial cartilage)

Alternative: traumatic osteochondritis/synovitis right knee.

Unacceptable: cruciate/collateral ligament rupture.


Perform a focused and accurate physical examination of the knee joints (physical examination skills).

Formulate a diagnostic/differential diagnosis plan appropriate to the clinical problem (clinical reasoning skills).


Failure to test movements of the left knee to compare with the other (affected) side.

Failure to test ligament integrity.

COMMENTARY The knee joint is the most complex synovial joint in the body. Traumatic soft tissue internal derangements of the knee (IDK) are common after domestic, recreational and sporting injuries giving: • injuries to the intra-articular cartilages (more commonly to the medial meniscus); • tears of the collateral ligaments from valgus or varus strains; • cruciate ligament tears; • traumatic synovitis; and • chondromalacia or osteochondritis dissecans. Candidates should not omit examining the back of the affected knee. Occasionally candidates may mistakenly examine the normal knee instead of the affected one after asking the patient to turn over — a moderately serious mistake induced by nervousness and lack of concentration.


054 Performance Guidelines

Condition 054 Assessment of hearing loss, first noted during pregnancy, in a 35-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of types of hearing loss and their differentiation on examination.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS Opening statement: 'What is wrong with my hearing?'

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: •

you gave birth to your first child a month ago;

about midway during the pregnancy you became aware of reduced hearing;

this has become progressively worse and is the reason for you consulting the doctor today;

your infant is breastfed and thriving; and

you have no other complaints.

The doctor is expected to ask you about a family history of deafness but provide this information only when asked. Your mother had operations for deafness on both ears many years ago. Your father, brother and sister are not deaf. The doctor may ask you further questions about your hearing loss: •

both ears are affected;

it has no other special characteristics — 'just getting deaf:

you have not had exposure to very loud music (e.g. heavy metal music via earphones), or industrial noise; and

you have no past history of ear infections.

Regarding severity: •

you have difficulty hearing the baby cry if he is not in the same room as you are;

you have to have the television volume turned up (partner complains it is too loud): and

you have noticed that you seem to hear a bit better when there is a lot of outside noise.

Other points: •

The examiner will NOT ALLOW the doctor to use the otoscope provided to examine your ear canals but will ask about its use and what conditions are being looked for. Candidates should indicate they will look for complete occlusion of the ear canal by wax (cerumen).

Hearing capacity — the doctor will whisper numbers or words in your ear, masking your other ear — respond by saying that you CANNOT HEAR these sounds when they become soft.

Tuning fork tests: ~ When placed on top of your head say — 'same on both sides', in response to the doctor's question.


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~ When placed beside your ear and then pressed on the bone behind your ear, say that 'the latter is the

louder.' The doctor may then repeat the test with the fork beside your ear, to test air conduction, asking you to say when the sound can no longer be heard. Respond accordingly after about 10 seconds 'can't hear it now'. The doctor should then press the tuning fork on the bone behind your ear to test bone conduction. Respond by saying 7 can hear that'. ~ If the candidate does the test in the reverse order (i.e. tests bone conduction prior to air conduction) react as follows: 7 can hear that' (on bone). When it can no longer be heard say 7 can't hear that

anymore and when air conduction is tested, say 7 can't hear that either'. •

The candidate should advise that referral for an audiogram or otolaryngological (ENT) opinion is necessary.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Ability to distinguish types of hearing loss (in this patient conduction loss due to otosclerosis).


Skill in use of tuning fork tests to define types of hearing loss — conductive versus sensorineural.

Ability to explain to the patient the problem and its management.


Failure to correctly use tuning fork in assessing hearing loss.

Failure to advise a referral for audiometry and/or ENT opinion.

COMMENTARY 'There are two kinds of deafness. One is due to wax and is curable; the other is not due to wax and is not curable.' Sir William Wilde (1815-1876). father of Oscar Wilde We have made some progress in diagnosis and treatment since the above statement! This station is predominantly a test of skill in clinical assessment of hearing loss requiring that the candidate has a basic knowledge of types of hearing loss: conductive versus sensorineural, and that conductive deafness due to wax occlusion or other causes must be excluded. The patient evinces conductive deafness due to otosclerosis. Deafness is a common problem in older people in our community. The onset of bilateral deafness in a young woman during pregnancy is uncommon. The positive family history of a mother requiring surgery for her hearing loss points towards an inherited cause, namely otosclerosis. The onset of this condition is generally in early adulthood and may progress rapidly in pregnancy. The stapes footplate becomes ankylosed in the oval window causing conductive type deafness. Patients may notice they hear more clearly in noisy surroundings. The condition can be treated by prosthetic stapedectomy and vein grafting.


054 Performance Guidelines

The eighth cranial nerve has two functional parts, the vestibular and the cochlear components. The cochlear branch subserves hearing. Afferent cochlear fibres from the inner ear pass through the internal auditory meatus and enter the upper medulla at the level of the inferior cerebellar peduncle to reach the dorsal and ventral cochlear nuclei. Fibres from these nuclei cross to the other side and end in the inferior colliculus. Fibres from that body go to the medial geniculate body and the auditory radiation to the temporal cortex. It is important to note that there are bilateral connections in the cochlear nucleus and above. Sensorineural deafness occurs when there is damage to the cochlear nerve fibres anywhere from the inner ear to the cochlear nuclei. The most common cause is degenerative changes in the elderly. Other causes include a fracture of the petrous temporal bone and an acoustic neuroma. Conduction deafness is caused by blockage of the ear canal and by damage or disease of the tympanic membrane or ossicular chain or fluid in the inner ear. • Establishing type of deafness — conductive versus sensorineural. Hearing should first be tested clinically for each ear with the examiner's finger occluding the other ear. Few people now have a ticking watch, so the examiner stands to the patients side and whispers numbers, which are repeated by the patient. The meatus, canal and drum are inspected with an otoscope, retracting the ear upwards and backwards to straighten the canal. This excludes other nonacute causes of conductive deafness (such as wax, osteomas, otitis externa, chronic otitis media). In this instance candidates will be informed that otoscopy is normal. Deafness may be due to impaired conduction of sound through a muffled middle ear (conductive or middle ear deafness); or to a lesion of auditory nerve, cochlear or brain (perceptive or sensorineural deafness). A tuning fork of high pitch (256 Hertz or greater) is used to compare hearing by bone conduction and air conduction. Normally air conduction is better than bone conduction. In nerve deafness air conduction remains better than bone conduction in the affected ear or ears. In middle ear/conduction deafness, bone conduction becomes better than air. RinneTest The vibrating tuning fork is placed on the mastoid, then at the auditory meatus: and the patient is asked which is louder. Air conduction (AC) is normally louder and is also iouder in nerve deafness. Hearing the fork louder on bone conduction (BC) indicates conductive deafness (BC > AC). Alternatively, put the fork on the mastoid until no longer audible, and then put it outside the meatus. The sound will in normal individuals be heard again and will also be heard again in nerve deafness, but not in conductive deafness. Weber test This can be very useful in unilateral deafness. The fork is placed on the centre of forehead in the midline; ask whether this is louder in one ear or equal. Normally the sound is heard equally in both ears. Occlude one ear with a finger or ear plug, and the sound will become louder in the affected ear (conductive deafness). In nerve deafness the sound is heard better on the normal side. So in unilateral conduction deafness Weber test localises to the affected side, in nerve deafness to the normal side.


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In bilateral conductive or bilateral nerve deafness the sound will be the same. Unilateral nerve deafness must be due to a lesion of the nerve itself, as cortical radiations are bilaterally and diffusely represented in the temporal cerebral cortices. Common causes of conductive deafness are wax, otitis media, otosclerosis and Paget disease. Nerve deafness can be due to cochlear degeneration, acoustic nerve tumour, drug ototoxicity, or trauma (fracture of petrous temporal bone). Knowledge of features of otosclerosis is required to identify the likely cause. Otosclerosis is a common cause of bilateral symmetrical hearing loss in adults. The stapes footplate is ankylosed in the oval window. The condition is familial (autosomal dominant), more common in women and worsens with pregnancy so that patients may present during pregnancy. Patients may notice they hear more clearly in noisy surroundings, whereas in perceptive hearing loss background noise worsens hearing. Investigation by audiometry will be diagnostic. The condition can be treated by prosthetic stapedectomy and vein grafting. A hearing aid is less effective for this condition and effectiveness gradually diminishes.


055 Performance Guidelines

Condition 055 Examination of a 20-year-old woman who dislocated her shoulder 6 months ago AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to perform a focused examination of the shoulder joint and of axillary nerve function. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You dislocated your right shoulder six months ago whilst playing competitive basketball. The dislocation was reduced successfully without anaesthesia at courtside. You initially noticed you had an area of numbness (with loss of sensation) the size of your fist over the lateral side of the upper arm below the shoulder tip, and you couldn't raise or keep your arm above your head. You were told this was due to a nerve injury. Over the next month the feeling gradually returned and the power in the arm came back. By four weeks you were having active shoulder exercises out of the sling, and by four months you were able to move the shoulder quite normally. You then began a graduated gymnasium programme under the supervision of your physiotherapist. Your current programme includes weight work and you have a full range of movements without loss of power as compared with the other side. You have resumed fully your normal activities of daily living and are keen to return to playing basketball when the season starts again in three months. Your physiotherapist and gym supervisor feel you are ready to return to this sporting activity but have suggested you get a final clearance from your doctor. Your shoulder will be examined by the candidate and it is now normal and without discomfort. The candidate will give the findings to the examiner and then will discuss things with you. Near the end of the assessment, the examiner will ask questions concerning shoulder function and what nerve was originally damaged. Appropriate prompts could be used as follows if the candidate does not provide you with the information you require regarding returning to basketball. Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'Am I able to restart sport in three months, doctor?'

'Do I need any other tests done?'

'Would it help if I saw a specialist in Sports ' Medicine?'

'Is it likely to happen again?'


055 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate would be expected to check: • Range of movement — flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal and external rotation and circumduction — all will be normal • Power of movement — normal • Scale of muscle power used: ~ 0 = nil ~ 1 = flicker ~ 2 = active movement possible but not against gravity ~ 3 = active movement possible against gravity ~ 4 = active movement possible against gravity and resistance ~ 5 = full power — absence of wasting, particularly of deltoid muscle, which is supplied by axillary nerve • Sensation — now normal. After six minutes, the examiner will ask (preferred answers in parentheses): • 'Is shoulder function and movement now normal?' (Yes). • 'Which nerve is at most risk from the usual type of shoulder dislocation?' (Axillary nerve). If the candidate is unable to indicate which nerve is involved, a very unsatisfactory mark should be given in the diagnosis category of assessment. As knowing the name of the involved nerve is not a "KEY ISSUE" it would not mean a fail mark overall must be awarded, but failing to test for axillary nerve function would be a critical error and generate a fail assessment. • 'Could you please now finish your discussion with the patient about her desire to return to sport?' (All seems satisfactory for you to return to playing basketball. There is a small likelihood that the shoulder dislocation will happen again. It would be advisable for you to have the shoulder strapped before each game to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of the problem. Your physiotherapist will be able to teach you the best method of strapping, and you then should be able to do it yourself, or get your coach to do it for you).

KEY ISSUES • Examination of the shoulder area indicating the appropriate technique to be used to evaluate the shoulder and axillary nerve function. • Display appropriate counselling skills when advising the patient concerning her desires to return to sporting activities. CRITICAL ERRORS • Inability to assess adequately the normal range of movement of the shoulder joint. • Failure to test the sensory and motor functions covered by the axillary nerve. • Giving inappropriate advice concerning the likelihood of recurrent dislocation.


055 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY A dislocated shoulder is a common injury in body contact sports. The shoulder joint is the most mobile synovial joint in the human body. Protection is supplied by the overlying acromion and clavicle, and by the rotator cuff musculature that closely envelops the joint. The major weak spot is below, where protection by surrounding muscles is less, and the capsule is more lax to allow freedom of full flexion and abduction. The common mechanism of dislocation is therefore displacement of humeral head from the glenoid downwards and forwards. The axillary nerve runs between the muscles immediately below the capsule from front to back and is therefore at hazard from stretching injury in shoulder dislocations. The axillary nerve gives motor branches to deltoid and to teres minor, and supplies sensation as the upper lateral cutaneous nerve of the arm. It is important to test for the integrity of the vulnerable nerve before reduction is undertaken and afterwards; just as it is to test sciatic nerve function before and after reducing a posterior dislocation of the hip (the most common hip dislocation).


056 Performance Guidelines

Condition 056 Assessment of a groin lump in a 40-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to perform a focused inguinoscrotal assessment, and to diagnose and advise on management of a reducible groin hernia. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The real patients, with a variety of groin lumps will play themselves. The examiner will check the physical findings prior to the assessment. The patient illustrated has a reducible right inguinal hernia. KEY ISSUES • Performance of an appropriately focused inguinoscrotal assessment with appropriate technique and accuracy CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to display appropriate clinical skills in diagnosis of a reducible groin hernia • Causing significant patient discomfort by rough technique. COMMENTARY Inguinoscrotal lumps are very common and present throughout life from birth to old age. The history of onset of pain following a lifting strain and followed by a lump is very suggestive of a groin hernia, and the appearance of the lump also supports this diagnosis. The examination should be thorough but gentle. The groin area needs to be exposed and the patient examined unclothed below the waist. It may be convenient to start with the patient standing, as small hernias are often made more prominent when standing. However, full examination and definition of all inguinoscrotal lumps is best performed with the patient comfortably lying; and with an anxious, apprehensive or modest patient it is best to start the examination with the patient lying supine. Examination with the patient standing should not be omitted, however, as various swellings (such as varicocele, saphena varix) may only be apparent on standing. Inspection and palpation of the area enable one to answer: • 'Is a groin hernia present?'A groin lump with an expansile impulse on coughing confirms the diagnosis in this case. The lump is seen and felt to expand uniformly and expansively when the patient coughs. The impulse ceases and the lump lessens or disappears when he relaxes. • 'Is the hernia reducible?' Check this visually and by feel. Always ask the patient himself to reduce the swelling before you try — in lumps of long standing he will be much more adept than you! • 'Is it an inguinal or femoral hernia?' This question is mainly of concern to the treating surgeon, but usually the differentiation is clear. This lump's relations to the groin land-


056 Performance Guidelines

marks with an inguinal hernia are that the swelling is above the inguinal ligament and medially placed in regard to the pubic tubercle. When you feel the impulse it is clear that it is arising from the external (superficial) inguinal ring, the key to diagnosis. • This patient's hernia is clearly an inguinal hernia. It arises from the external ring, has an expansile cough impulse and reduces on lying down. If the lump had come out from the region of the saphenous opening below the inguinal ligament and more laterally (4 cm below and lateral to pubic tubercle) it would have been a femoral hernia. Sometimes in obese people it is impossible to be quite sure clinically which type of hernia is present.

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 2. Right inguinal hernia

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 3. Left inguinal hernia

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 4. Right femoral hernia

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 5. Larger right femoral hernia

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 6. Bilateral femoral hernias

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 7. Large left scrotal hydrocele


056 Performance Guidelines

• 'Is the inguinal hernia direct or indirect?' The brief answer is — often you cannot tell clinically, and the diagnosis is made at operation for hernias confined to the groin alone. But if the hernia is a larger one, which clearly extends well down into the scrotum, the answer becomes obvious. Only indirect inguinal hernias descend into the scrotum by virtue of the anatomy of the sac, which is within the spermatic cord. Whereas the sac of a direct hernia, which never descends, is behind the spermatic cord. The candidate must check that an inguinoscrotal lump reduces completely on lying down — there may in fact be two lumps — a reducible hernia coming down from above and an unreducible scrotal hydrocele below!

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 8. Bilateral large inguinal hernias, probably indirect

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 9. Large right indirect inguinoscrotal hernia

Patients with chronic obstructive airways disease and a chronic cough often develop acquired bilateral direct inguinal hernias. These present as small swellings confined to the groin which bulge directly forward through the enlarged external inguinal rings as illustrated.

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 10. Bilateral direct inguinal hernias

CONDITION 056. FIGURE 11. Varicocele


056 Performance Guidelines

After having arrived at the correct diagnosis (a reducible right inguinal hernia), the examination is not yet finished. Multiple pathologies are very common. Both right and left sides must be checked — both inguinal and femoral orifices — to check that the hernia is unilateral. Additionally carefully check the spermatic cords/testes and their coverings to exclude an additional testicular swelling, hydrocele, or epididymal cyst. Feel femoral pulses and check that no abnormal lymph node enlargements are present. Do not forget to stand the patient up to check for venous swellings or small hernias Once a full diagnosis is made, consider treatment. Although surgery is not obligatory for all hernias, it is likely to be appropriate in this manual worker. So, refer him appropriately, explaining that the benefits of surgery usually outweigh risks (of which a number exists).


057 Performance Guidelines

Condition 057 Eye problems in an Aboriginal community AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to interpret photographs of trachoma, to assess their knowledge of the disease, and their ability to advise on appropriate management of the condition, EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the nurse as follows: You are a trained nurse and have come to work in a small community in outback Australia. You have no previous experience of this type of work and in particular, you have little knowledge of the diseases often endemic in remote Australian Aboriginal communities. You have been in the community for a couple of weeks and have noticed that a significant proportion of the community appears to have eye problems. You have taken photographs of some of these individuals and have brought the images to the community doctor so that you can get a medical opinion on the problems and how they might be managed. Questions to ask unless already covered: • 'Do you think these might all be due to the same problem?' • 'How does the infection get from one person to another?' (if infection is mentioned as a cause) • 'What will happen if the condition is not treated?' • 'Is this condition found anywhere else and how common is it?' • 'Is it preventable9 If so, how can it be prevented?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should be able to: • recognise that eversion of the upper eyelid facilitates diagnosis; • describe the changes in the photographs: • recognise that the condition is trachoma, because of the setting of an indigenous Australian Aboriginal community, with classical appearances of trachoma: • describe the agent responsible for the disease (Chlamydia trachomatis), and the vector of transmission (flies, hand contact, fomites); • understand the pathological changes produced by the organism; and • describe some simple and appropriate measures that might be employed to reduce the risk of infection. KEY ISSUES • Interpretation of clinical photographs of eye changes produced by trachoma. • Knowledge and understanding of trachoma, its mode of transmission and measures used to reduce the risk of infection.


057 Performance Guidelines CRITICAL E R R O R •

Failure to recognise trachoma

COMMENTARY Globally, trachoma is the most common infectious cause of blindness and is a preventable disease. It is endemic in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Aboriginal communities of Australia. More than six million people are blind as a result of trachoma. It is a disease of poverty and the marginalised members of society. The condition was known from ancient times as a contagious disease, and given the name trachoma (Greek), meaning a 'rough' swelling. Trachoma is caused by an obligate intracellular Gram-negative bacterium. Chlamydia trachomatis. The disease is usually transmitted by direct contact or fomites between children and their mothers, or others involved in the care of children, and by flies. Poor facial hygiene facilitates spread by attracting flies and there are often recurrent bouts of infection within a family. Recurrent infection will cause chronic conjunctival inflammation, which is followed by scarring of the tarsal conjunctiva. As scars mature, the tarsal plate becomes distorted and entropion (turning in of the eyelid) develops and this results in trichiasis (misdirection of the eyelashes towards the globe). Chronic irritation of the globe will lead to corneal abrasions, infection, opacification and finally, blindness. Candidates should be able to identify the stages of trachoma, easily remembered by the acronym FISTO — •




Trichiasis; and

Opacity of the cornea.

Follicles are the sign of active trachoma infection, and represent the sites of replication of the causative organism. The diagnosis of trachoma is confirmed by the presence of more than 5 follicles. They lead to scarring after multiple attacks (dozens). The scarring of the deep surface of the lid distorts the lid and results in lashes rubbing on the cornea, which ulcerates and becomes infected and scarred. The resulting blindness is permanent. Candidates should know that azithromycin is specific for the causative organism Chlamydia trachomatis. The active disease is usually seen in young children, with inflammatory changes most apparent in young adults. The scarring effects of infection develop in middle-age, when the patients present with trichiasis and corneal opacity. A simplified grading scheme for trachoma which can be taught to and used by community health workers, was introduced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1987.


057 Performance Guidelines

Grade Definition TF Five or more follicles seen on the tarsal conjunctiva of the everted upper lid. (Figures 1, 5) Tl

Intense inflammation of the upper tarsal conjunctiva, obscuring the view of more thanhalf of the deep tarsal blood vessels on the everted upper eyelid. (Figure 6)

TS White lines of subconjunctival scarring visible on the surface of the everted upper eyelid. (Figure 2) TT Trichiasis, at least one eyelash rubbing on the globe, or evidence of recent removal. (Figures 3, 4, 7) CO Corneal opacity, obscuring at least part of the pupil margin. (Figures 3, 4, 7) The candidate should be able to discuss public health measures. Some practical advice for a community nurse would be along the lines of the SAFE strategy, developed by the WHO. • Surgery: identification of individuals in the community who might benefit from correctional eyelid surgery for trichiasis and entropion. • Antibiotics: children should be examined (with eversion of the upper eyelid) for trachoma and all members of a family where there is active trachoma should be treated with oral azithromycin • Facial cleanliness communities, and particularly affected families, need to be educated about the disease, its mode of spread, and that simple measures such as ensuring facial cleanliness will reduce the risk and severity of trachoma. • Environmental upgrade: any improvement in water supplies, household sanitation, personal and community hygiene will reduce the risks of infection. Improved cleanliness in sleeping areas with fly and dust control should be emphasised. Additional trachoma examples are shown below. Upper eyelid eversion to inspect for follicles facilitates early diagnosis.


057 Performance Guidelines

CONDITION 057. FIGURE 5. Inflammatory follicles on the under surface of the upper tarsus (TF) in closeup

CONDITION 057. FIGURE 7. Entropion with trichiasis (TT) and corneal opacification (CO)


CONDITION 057. FIGURE 6. Inflammatory changes on the everted upper eyelid (Tl)

2-C: Choice and Interpretation of

Investigations Reuben D Glass and Vernon C Marshall 'It is not of decisive significance whether the clinician confronts an overwhelming or a modest amount of material, if only he understands how to exploit it: in other words, he must be in a position to put the right questions and to find the right methods for answering them.' Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) Disease, Life and Man Modern medicine relies considerably on the results of special investigations. Previously, the traditional stock-in-trade of the astute clinician has been the manner in which his unaided clinical senses of observation, hearing and touch are used in making diagnoses and in formulating strategies of management. But times and clinical practice have changed. Investigations play an increasingly important (though still not all-important) part in the practice of medicine. Major growth of special investigations has occurred in the fields of laboratory medicine and in organ imaging. The clinician in such instances often assumes the role of consumer, and must be alert to the possibility that an opinion given by another (or the data issued by a machine) is not always absolutely reliable and may occasionally be wrong. This short introduction aims to give a general idea of the circumstances in which special investigations are essential, useful, profitable, redundant, or potentially dangerous, and to help in their choice and interpretation. Patients often assume that when a test is ordered, it will answer whether disease is present or not. Clinicians sometimes make the same mistake. A test may be useful for helping to confirm, or helping to exclude the possibility of a disorder, but will seldom give a perfect answer. A frequent error is to suppose that a given test is equally useful for confirming or excluding disease, but this is usually not true. The clinician who orders a test should always be mindful of the reason for its use. If the test result will not alter the patient's management, there is little point in ordering it. Diagnostic accuracy of any test will depend upon how well it performs in comparison with its performance against another so-called 'gold standard'. The histological diagnosis of cancer is the usual yardstick against which the performance of another less invasive test is measured. More often, however, one must compare the accuracy of several available tests to determine which is best. TEST RESULTS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS

A frequent error is to suppose that a given test is equally useful for The performance of a test may be studied in a survey of a particular confirming or excluding population. disease, but this is The test sensitivity is the percentage of patients k n o w n t o h a v e a usually not true. The particular disease, whose test proves positive ( t r u e p o s i t i v i t y ) The clinician who orders a down side of high sensitivity is a potentially high false positivity rate: test should always be the proportion without the disease who also test positive. mindful of the reason for The test specificity is the percentage of patients in that population its use. If the test result k n o w n t o b e f r e e of the disease, in whom the test proves negative will not alter the patient's { t r u e n e g a t i v i t y ) The down side of high specificity would be a high management, there is false negativity rate: the proportion with the disease who also test little point in ordering it. Sensitivity and Specificity



2-C Choice and Interpretation Investigations


The following examples explore these concepts: Example 1 A group of 1,000 patients is tested for the presence of a certain disease (Table 1 ). Results SECTION 2-C. TABLE 1.

Test results in 1,000 patients affected with a disease. Disease Present Test Positive Test Negative Total:

18 2 20

(a) (c) (a+c)

Disease Absent 20 960 980

(b) (d) (b+d)

Total 38 (a+b) 962 (c+d) 1.000 (a+b+c+d)

The sensitivity is a/(a+c) which in example 1 is 18/20= 90% The specificity is d/(b+d) which in example 1 is 960/980=98% Results of research studies are often presented in this way. Sensitivity and specificity are epidemiological measures, which need to be adapted for clinical use. Predictive values In considering individual patients with unknown disease status on presentation, the clinician wishes particularly to know the predictive value of the test: that is, the likelihood of a positive or negative test confirming or excluding the disease. •

Positive Predictive Value is the proportion of persons testing positive who actually have the disease. (The false positives comprise the 'false alarm rate').

Negative Predictive Value is the proportion testing negative who in fact do not have the disease. (The false negatives comprise the 'false reassurance rate').

The clinical interpretation of the test may be given as: The positive predictive value is a/(a+b) The negative predictive value is d/(c+d) The false alarm rate is b/(a+b) The false reassurance rate is c/(c+d)

which in example 1 which in example 1 which in example 1 which in example 1

is 18/ 38 is 960/ 962 is 20/ 38 IS 2/962

= 47% = 99.8% = 53% = 0.2%

Implications: This test has a high specificity (98%). and thus is very helpful in excluding disease. If it gives a negative result, there is a very high likelihood that disease is absent (99.8% negative predictive value). Conversely, there is a very low chance that this negative result will give false reassurance (0.2% false reassurance rate). It has a lower sensitivity (90%), and is much less useful in confirming disease. It misses 10% of cases with the disease and is more likely to be positive — and thus gives a false alarm — in patients without the disease (53%) than in those with the disease (47%).


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

The ideal test should have absolute sensitivity — all people within the test group with the condition will give a positive test result. The ideal test should also be absolutely specific (the converse of sensitivity) — all people within the test group who do not have the condition will give a negative result. If a test had a sensitivity of 1 and a specificity of 1 its probability of error would be zero, and positive and negative predictive values would be 100%. With such an ideal test there would be no false positives and no false negatives. The ideal test should also be attended by a very low level of random or systematic errors of measurement. It should be highly reproducible: the error within and between observers should be very low. No test absolutely measures up to all these ideals. Biochemical tests are based on results from a healthy population sample. These results will usually have a Gaussian normal distribution bell-shaped curve pattern when plotted. Laboratory reports often imply that results falling outside two standard deviations from the mean are 'abnormal'. Such reports should be treated with caution, as by statistical definition, one in 20 healthy individuals would fit this category. A similar spread of results is obtained when examining patients with a particular disease. As there is overlap between the values in healthy and diseased patients, the choice of a cut-off point between a positive and negative test result is artificial. In such tests, specificity and sensitivity are likely to be inversely related. For example, in screening tests for prostate cancer, a serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) level of 4 ng/mL is frequently used as the cut-off level. The test has a range of levels, and at high levels the risk of prostatic cancer being present is increased. At lower levels more patients will be identified who have a condition other than prostate cancer (prostatitis, benign prostatomegaly etc.). Reducing the cut-off level of the test to 2 ng/mL would increase the test sensitivity but reduce the specificity. This will increase the number of false positives and create anxiety for a greater number of patients who would subsequently be worked up to decide whether the test was truly positive for prostate cancer. Implications: A highly sensitive test is an appropriate one for screening a population for an abnormality. A negative result in a highly sensitive test will effectively rule out the diagnosis. The fact that the test is not absolutely specific for the abnormality but also identifies a number of individuals, who are normal or have some other condition, can subsequently be taken care of by applying to the identified group a further test which is highly specific (but not so sensitive). In the highly specific test on individuals picked up by the sensitive screening test, a positive result will effectively give a definite diagnosis. In the prostatic example above the subsequent test would be a tissue biopsy confirming cancer. Faecal occult blood testing for bowel malignancies is another example of a test with a relatively high sensitivity but poor specificity, which will require further assessment (endoscopy) of those identified with a positive result. The sensitivity is determined also by the biology of the condition. In colorectal cancer, a faecal occult blood test will not detect neoplasms which do not bleed. Other relevant aspects of testing are the frequency and importance of a disease and its duration and natural history. Unfortunately, measures of predictive value have limitations in clinical practice, as they depend on the prevalence of the disease in the population (Disease prevalence: the number of people with the disease in the test population at the time of testing. This should not be confused with disease incidence: the number of new cases of the disease occurring in the population over a set time interval).


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

The utility of a test is influenced by population differences. Suppose the same number of affected patients (20) with the disease illustrated in Example 1 in a population of 1,000, were spread about a population 10 times the size (10,000 — Example 2, Table 2): The prevalence of the disease is 20 1000 20 10000

(a+c)/ (a+b+c+d) which in Example 1 is and in Example 2 is

Example 2

= 2% (Table 1) =0.2% (Table 2)


Test results in 10,000 patients in a region of lower disease prevalence. Disease Present Test Positive Test Negative Total:

18 2 20

(a) (c) (a+c)

Disease Absent 200 9,780 9,980

(b) (d) (b+d)

Total 218 (a+b) (c+d) 9,782 10,000 (a+b+c+d)

The test sensitivity (90%) and specificity (98%) are unchanged in Example 2 from Example 1 However, in this larger population, with a disease prevalence of 0.2% (compared to a prevalence of 2% in Example 1 ), the negative predictive value has increased to almost 100%, while the positive predictive value is now only 8%. The predictive value of a positive test depends on the frequency of disease in the population

Example 3: breast cancer evaluation The following table gives results of a highly specific test (T: needle core biopsy) performed in 600 women showing focal mammographie abnormalities, to diagnose or exclude the worst case disease (D: breast cancer). SECTION 2-C. TABLE 3.

Test results for 600 women with focal mammographie abnormalities. Test(T)

Patients with cancer

Patients found free of

Needle core biopsy

subsequently confirmed (D positive)

cancer subsequently (D negative)


Needle core biopsy Positive for cancer

143 a

2 b


Needle core biopsy Negative for cancer

15 c

440 d


Breast cancer 158

Benign Conditions 442




2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

Sensitivity of test (true positivity) Specificity of test (true negativity) False Positivity Rate False Negativity Rate Positive Predictive Value Negative Predictive Value False Alarm Rate False Reassurance Rate Prevalence of breast cancer in test population

a/( a+c) d /(b+d) b/ (a+b) c/( c+d) a/( a+b) d/(c+d) b/(a+b) c/(c+d) (a+c)/( a+b+c+d)

143 /158 440/ 442 2/ 145 15 /455 143/145 440/455 2/145 15/455 158/600

91% 99% 1% 3% 99% 97% 1% 3% 26%

Implications: Positive and negative predictive values are seen to be strongly affected by the characteristics of the test (sensitivity and specificity) and by characteristics of the population (disease prevalence). Here 26% of those showing focal abnormalities on mammography (the original screening test) ultimately proved to have cancer. Core biopsy had very good (99%) positive predictive value, but not quite so good (97%) negative predictive values. A small but not insignificant group (3%) had cancer found at operation done to remove the mammographie abnormality, after preoperative false reassurance. Likelihood ratios and scoring systems Use of likelihood ratios, which may be considered as measuring the 'leverage' of a test, is a method of separating the characteristics of a population from the inherent value of a test. In assessing the result of a test, the clinician may follow the following thought process:

Depends on population Depends on test characteristics Before performing a test, the clinician should have an idea of the possibility of disease in the population. This can be expressed mathematically as prevalence probability (a+c)/(a+b+c+d), or more usefully here as 'prior odds', which is the ratio comparing the number of patients with disease to the number of patients without disease, or (a+c)/(b+d) The usefulness of a test is measurable by the likelihood ratio. The likelihood ratio of a positive test is the frequency of a positive test in disease compared with its frequency without disease, or [(a)/(a+c)]/[(b)/(b+d)]. The value in example 1 is thus [(18/20)]/[(20/980)]. or approximately 50.


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

Multiplying the prior odds by the likelihood ratio gives revised odds, or chances that disease will be present, compared with absent:

In example

1, the prior odds are 20/980, or approximately 0,02 in favour of disease (or 50:1 against); revised

odds are 0.02 x 50 = 1, i.e. 1:1 or a 50:50' toss-up. In example 2, the prior odds are 20:9980 or 0.002 in favour of disease (or 500:1 against); revised odds are 0.002 x 50 = 0.01 in favour of disease (or 10:1 against). Implications: It should be noted that the likelihood ratio often has a different value for a positive or a negative test. If the test is negative, the likelihood ratio (negative) is the frequency of a negative test without disease, compared with a negative test in disease, or [ d / ( b + d ) ] / [ c / ( a + c ) ] . This is not the reciprocal of the likelihood ratio (positive); a test will not be equally useful for confirming or excluding disease. In example

1, the likelihood ratio (negative) is [(960/980)/(2/20)] or approximately 10. In that example, where

the prior odds of no disease were 50:1, the revised odds against disease, given a negative test, are now 500:1. In example 2, the prior odds of no disease were approximately 500:1, the revised odds are now 5000:1. Various scoring systems have been proposed, which follow a similar logic, using addition of mathematically derived scores, rather than the multiplication of odds and ratios. While some believe that addition of 'weights' in this way may parallel the clinician's thought processes more closely, these systems have not been widely adopted. Test Error The possibility of error in any test must thus always be considered. Most disturbing of all is the prospect of a mistake in the distinction between life and death. Now that the transplantation of cadaveric tissues has become a clinical reality, and because procurement of such tissues within a short time of death is essential to success, the unequivocal early diagnosis of brain death has demanded diagnostic tests of scrupulous and unparalleled stringency. As will be seen in the book example relating to brain death, note that virtually all the tests for brain death involve direct observation of the patient by at least two experienced clinicians rather than the application of potentially imperfect technologies. USEFULNESS OF TESTS1 The more tests that are performed on a patient the more likely it is that one or another will give a falsely abnormal result by pure chance. Another important factor is that multiple deviations from normality are common in any individual, especially in an ageing population. So, if multiple diagnostic tests are applied to a given patient in a mindless scattergun fashion, it is almost inevitable that one or more will be reported as positive. These positive results may be true or false, important or unimportant, relevant or irrelevant to the patients problem. Relatively simple clinical problems can all too easily become lost sight of in the maze created by multiple investigations.

1 Glass, R.D., Di ag n os i s : a bri e f i n tr od ucti o n , Oxford University Press, Australia, 1996


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

Diagnostic utility of a particular test is thus determined by: • the prevalence and importance of the condition tested for; • the diagnostic accuracy of the test and how it compares to that of other well established tests; • the invasiveness of the test and the risk to the patient from its performance; • the test's cost and availability; and • whether the outcome of the test will influence the management of the patient's complaint. Case Example The following case study demonstrates the optimal integration of morphologic and functional imaging and biochemical investigations with diagnostic and management plans and pathways in a patient with an unexpected incidental finding on initial investigation. A 66-year-old man presented to his general practitioner after an episode of right upper quadrant abdominal pain, which had resolved after four hours. Clinical examination was noncontributory. An abdominal ultrasound was ordered with a provisional diagnosis of gallstones and associated biliary pain. The ultrasound showed a normal gall bladder and biliary system free of stones, but revealed a focal round solid mass 5 cm in diameter, above the right kidney, inferior to the liver, and in the position of the right adrenal gland. (Figure 1 )


Ultrasound findings An abdominal CT was next done to delineate more accurately the pathology. Intravenous and oral contrast material were used to enhance imaging. (Figure 2) The mass was confirmed to be a focal 5 cm round, solid mass within the right adrenal gland, extrinsic to the posteroinferior right lobe of the liver, and to the right of, and lateral to, the inferior vena cava, and superomedial to the right kidney. The mass had smooth borders and appeared well encapsulated without any evidence of infiltration of surrounding structures. The left adrenal was normal and no other intra-abdominal mass or pathology was noted. 303

2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

SECTION 2-C. FIGURE 2. Computed tomography (CT) of abdomen

Was this adrenal mass relevant to his symptoms, or was It an 'Incidentaloma '? Small benign adrenal adenomas of no clinical relevance are very common in patients of this age, but are mostly less than 2 cm in diameter. This one is larger (5 cm) and masses of 5 cm or above are more suspicious of malignancy. Removal is often advised for larger tumours even it nonsymptomatic. He was referred for specialist opinion. Further detailed history with focused questioning was helpful. For the last 8 years he had noticed 'funny turns ' episodically. These caused him to feel dizzy and nauseated, and were associated with thumping and pounding in his chest, and a throbbing in his head thai lasted for several minutes. The experienced clinician recognised that such a pattern would be consistent with catecholamine surges produced by an adrenal medullary tumour — a phaeochromocytoma. Family history can be important in phaeochromocytomas associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia Type 2, with associated parathyroid hyperplasia (C cells) and medullary thyroid cancer. No such family history was obtained here; and clinical examination of neck was normal as was the serum calcium level. There was no family history of hypertension. His father died of a stroke and his mother of gastric cancer, both in their 80s. He had a past episode of a bleeding peptic ulcer 30 years ago (duodenal ulcer is associated with phaeochromocytomas) and minor symptoms currently of urinary hesitancy. His prostate felt normal on rectal examination. He had no cough, chest pain, dyspnoea or sputum and did not smoke (adrenal metastases from lung or other primary sites need to be remembered).


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

The range of endocrine overactivities from an adrenal tumour can involve singly or in combination: • Glucocorticoids from adrenal cortex: Cortisol excess (Cushlng syndrome). There were no stigmata of hypercortisolaemia clinically — no moon face, no hypertension, no body fat redistribution, no cataracts. • Mineralocorticoids from adrenal cortex: aldosterone excess (Conn syndrome). Hypertension is the common association here, together with hypokalemia. His electrolytes were normal. • Adrenal sex hormones from adrenal cortex: these may give virilisation in women. • Catecholamines from adrenal medulla (adrenaline and noradrenaline): phaeochromo-cytoma. This seems most likely from the history. Again hypertension is a common association. Thus the three most common adrenal tumours each can cause secondary hypertension, although his blood pressure was normal on review. However hypertension may be episodic, particularly with phaeochromocytoma. Functional endocrine investigative studies were arranged. Modern endocrinological tests have high specificity and sensitivity. Initial screening urinary or serum analyses are most reliable following an episode of symptoms but do not of course localise the site of origin. A battery of screening tests was ordered, as well as standard preoperative screening tests. • Full blood examination

normal, Hb 151 g/L

• Cardiovascular status

ECG sinus rhythm, no evidence cardiac ischaemia

• Echocardiogram • Electrolytes • Coagulation studies • Blood glucose

no ventricular hypertrophy normal no abnormalities mild elevation

• Specific urinary catecholamine excretion analysis can be for end products (VMA — vannylmandelic acid), or for adrenaline and noradrenaline themselves (normally 80% adrenaline and 20% noradrenaline). Urine 24 hour analyses for excretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline were done in this case and were markedly elevated, with high levels of both noradrenaline and adrenaline — noradrenaline 1160 mmol/day (45-600), adrenaline 720 mmol/day (5-80). As adrenal tumours may produce more than one hormone, a check for aldosterone effects was also done measuring plasma aldosterone, renin activity levels, and aldosterone/renin ratio. All were within normal range. Hydrocortisone (Cortisol) levels were also normal. The diagnosis of right adrenal phaeochromocytoma was thus definitively established, and Conn and Cushing syndrome excluded. But was the tumour only at one site? Phaeochromocytoma often causes attacks of episodic hypertension only and can be at multiple sites. It is designated the 10% tumour — 70% are bilateral, 10% are at extra-adrenal sites, 10% are malignant. Previously, extended open laparotomy was required to check fully for other abdominal sites — the opposite adrenal, the retroperitoneum down to the pelvis, the urinary bladder, and in the presacral area around the great vessels. Open surgery required large incisions, major surgical dissection of hazardous tissue planes, and inpatient stays of up to 2 weeks. The advent of nuclear medicine has enabled accurate preoperative functional imaging to confirm one or multiple sites precisely. Extra-adrenal tumours secrete noradrenaline only and are almost always associated with hypertension, but the opposite adrenal always needs to be excluded as a source.


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

Final investigation: Radionuclide localising scan Metaiodobenzylguanidine scan (MIBG): A radioiodine labelled agent (MIBG). which is taken up by catecholamine precursors, is injected. Abdominal scintigraphy will localise the functioning tumour as illustrated (Figure 3). The test is specific and sensitive.

SECTION 2-C FIGURE 3. Functional nuclear scan for catecholamines, showing hot spot below liver on right The scan confirmed a single hot area at the site of the right adrenal with no activity in the left adrenal or elsewhere. Preparation of the patient for surgery now began. Preoperative elective catecholamine blockade over a period of 1-2 weeks has now virtually eliminated the hazard of operative adrenal crisis due to a catecholamine surge with life-threatening hypertension. Adrenaline and noradrenaline stimulate a and /3 (vascular and cardiac) receptors. Initial a-receptor blockade was begun with phenoxybenzamine, followed by (1-receptor blockade (propranolol) after a-blockage had occurred. During surgery nitroprusside and phentolamine should be available to control bleed pressure swings precisely. Laparoscopic surgery is particularly applicable to well localised functioning adrenal tumours. Excellent views are obtained, separation of the tumour from major adjacent vasculature is facilitated, required hospital stay is reduced, and rapid convalescence ensured. Only very large tumours, malignant tumours, or evidence of tumours at multiple sites are contraindications to a laparoscopic approach. The operation was uneventful with removal of the right adrenal and its contained tumour. His convalescence was straightforward with discharge from hospital within 2 days of surgery.


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

SECTION 2-C. FIGURE 4. Adrenalectomy specimen Diagnostic utility was appropriate in this instance for each of the carefully planned sequential investigations across a spectrum of imaging, biochemical, and radionuclide tests, leading to precise diagnosis and focused surgery with every expectation of complete cure. OFFICE TESTS USED IN PATIENT ASSESSMENT Body Temperature Measurement This test illustrates many of the points discussed. Temperature recording is easily performed and inexpensive, can be done accurately, is non-invasive and effectively free from risk. In terms of detecting abnormality, it is extremely sensitive, but very low in specificity. It is a cost effective test that can and should be applied to almost all clinical problems. A significantly elevated body temperature indicates (in the absence of factitious malingering) an organic inflammatory or infective ailment. The test is thus an excellent all round screening measure. Urinalysis This shares many of the performance characteristics of temperature measurement and can be applied at minimum cost to virtually all clinical patients. Observer error has been reduced to a minimum by the development of user-friendly dipsticks. These can provide highly specific and highly sensitive identification of glycosuria, proteinuria, biliuria, haematuria and other abnormalities. Medieval manuscripts used depictions of inspection of a urine flask (urinoscopy) as a convenient symbol of the medical practitioner — a convention based on clinical reality at the time. Modern technology has enhanced rather than diminished the utility of urinoscopy/urinalysis in diagnosis. Urinary positivity for glucose will depend upon renal threshold. Blood glucose fingerprick analysis, now also readily available by user-friendly office instruments (glucometer), allows rapid identification of hyperglycaemia and can often establish the presence of diabetes. An elevated random blood glucose level over 11 mmol/L will effectively confirm the diagnosis of diabetes. Glycosuria and glycaemia here serve as complementary screening and diagnostic tests — high sensitivity screening augmented by specific diagnostic testing.


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

Urine tests for pregnancy diagnosis Another very widely used urinary test for office or home use, which gives results within a few minutes, is urinary detection of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) using monoclonal and polyclonal antibody test strips. Positive testing for pregnancy can occur from the first day of the missed period with a sensitivity of 25 mu/ml. Sensitivity and specificity progressively increase thereafter as the pregnancy progresses. In many clinical consultations with women of childbearing age with abdominal pain, particularly if accompanied by menstrual irregularities, a spot urinary pregnancy test is prudent and often diagnostically helpful. Urine tests for diagnosis of ovulation time Home monitoring of urinary luteinising hormone (LH) antibody from 17 days before the expected period can detect the LH surge indicating that ovulation will occur within 24-36 hours. Electrocardiograph/electrocardiogram (ECG) Previously a quite sophisticated test, ECG is now increasingly available for on-the-spot office consultation and provides sensitive and specific information regarding cardiac rate and rhythm and cardiac function, complementing cardiologie history and examination. Ultrasound/Doppler probes Hand held battery-operated ultrasound probes can be used to more accurately identify arterial or venous blood flow, aiding diagnosis of peripheral arterial insufficiency, arteriovenous shunting, or venous obstruction and incompetence. In the wards they can aid physical examination to detect a full or empty urinary bladder in postoperative patients. Mass screening of populations, used in our community to identify common life-threatening diseases (cancer of breast, colon) and cardiovascular disease (coronary artery disease and stroke), involves mammography, faecal occult blood examination, measurement of blood pressure and serum lipids, and other programmes. The effectiveness of these programmes is determined by sensitivity and specificity of the tests employed and their cost, plus the prevalence and importance of the disease in the community. The ultimate goal of such screening programmes is to diminish mortality by early detection of diseases, or by detecting persons who are at high risk of developing disease and introducing preventive strategies. The additional requirement of cost-effectiveness in achieving such goals often requires years of prospective study.


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

USE OF INVESTIGATIONS IN CLINICAL PROBLEM-SOLVING: CHOICE OF INVESTIGATIONS Tests used to aid clinical diagnosis of the patients presenting problem should utilise discriminative strategies rather than the cumulative strategy of performing more and more tests in the hope that something will turn up. Tests used discriminatively and with appropriate perception and perspective will enable the diagnostic process to move along appropriately focused lines to best advantage. Data collection from focused history and physical examination leads to the discriminative clinician asking the questions: • What is the patient's presenting condition? • What is the diagnosis? • What else could it be? • Have I enough certainty to stop testing and go on to treatment? • If more tests are required which are the best and in what sequence, and over what time interval? For example, in diagnosing headache, acute headache is often part of an upper respiratory tract infection presentation associated with other symptoms of general loss of well being. Chronic and recurring headaches are most usually due either to tension headache, migraine or cervical dysfunction/spondylosis. Of the many other causes, warning flags should be looked for in the clinical assessment to exclude temporal arteritis, subarachnoid haemorrhage and cerebral tumour. A persisting headache is also an associated symptom secondary to a wide range of other conditions. CT head scan is only required in the minority of instances, when an intracranial lesion causing cerebral compression with increased intracranial pressure is suspected. Low back pain and neck pain are most often due to temporary soft tissue musculo-ligamentous strains ('nonspecific mechanical back pain'). Precise anatomical or pathologic diagnosis is often not possible. The place of investigations is confounded by the facts that degenerative change in discs and facet joints which could be associated with symptomatic pain are found in a significant proportion of nonsymptomatic individuals, especially those aged over 40 years, where the prevalence is likely to be at least 30%. Contrariwise in patients with chronic low back pain, no significant organic pathology is demonstrable in around 30% of patients. Plain X-rays will exclude serious bony lesions and may give evidence of soft tissue pathology, but CT (or nowadays and increasingly, MRI scanning) gives the most accurate assessment of soft tissues; and despite its expense the latter investigation of MRI is usually the preferred investigation in chronic spinal pain. Ultrasound is of limited use in spinal pain, but ultrasound is usually the investigation of first choice in acute or chronic shoulder pain following injury. However, ultrasound is very observer-dependent, and again MRI is likely to be more sensitive and specific. With acute abdominal pain, a small group of patients with a catastrophic syndrome of 'acute abdominal surgical emergency' requires urgent surgery with minimal preoperative investigations. In this case surgery is the major and most urgent investigation, and leads directly to diagnosis and management of such causes as acute abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture, and acute ischaemic strangulation of bowel. Upper abdominal pain which is less urgent, or chronic, can be investigated by plain or contrast X-ray. ultrasound, isotope studies, endoscopy, CT or MRI together with a host of biochemical and other laboratory tests. If gallstones are thought to be the most likely pathology causing abdominal


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations pain ultrasound is the most appropriate first investigation. Ultrasound is noninvasive, can be used both in emergency and elective situations, displays the gallbladder wall and contents as well as the bile duct system and picks up many associated or alternative diagnoses (particularly in liver, kidneys, pancreas and spleen). If peptic ulcer is thought most likely, endoscopy is usually the best initial investigation and aided by biopsy can distinguish benign from malignant lesions. Pain thought to arise from the pancreas is likely to require early CT. The use of combined noninvasive modalities such as helical CT or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) can now provide high sensitivity and specificity with high resolution imaging. Newer techniques such as multi-slice CT (MSCT) are becoming the examinations of choice for assessment of various body systems and organs. MSCT allows greater information to be gained due to the thinner multiplanar slices acquired, which can be reviewed in multiple planes or in three dimensions to give superbly detailed images as illustrated (Figures 5-9).2










CT Angiography

2 Figures reproduced by permission of MIA Victoria, a member of l-MED/MIA Network; A Guide to Multi-Slice CT Scanning.


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

In patients with jaundice, liver function tests are usually of limited value in diagnosing the cause of the jaundice, but they provide information which must be taken into account in formulating further diagnostic and management plans. Ultrasound and helical CT or MRCP comprise investigative mainstays. Important investigations prior to surgical management include blood coagulation tests and tests of renal function. Patients with suspected bowel pathology can be investigated either by radiology or endoscopy. Colonoscopy is preferred to diagnose mucosal lesions. For focal subcutaneous lumps and focal skin lesions, in many instances no investigations are required and an accurate diagnosis can be obtained from the clinical history and examination. If the lump or skin lesion is clinically suspicious then the definitive investigation is often histological examination of an operative specimen. Preliminary diagnostic investigations are often done to determine more accurately the physical nature of deep lumps. Ultrasound can differentiate between cystic and solid lesions, while CT or MRI will give more precise diagnosis. Once the decision is made that microscopic examination is necessary, fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) is often a highly specific test, particularly for patients presenting with breast lumps (palpable or picked up by imaging), or subcutaneous lymph node swellings. Aspiration cytology gives cytological rather than histological diagnosis; but using flow cytometry and assessing surface receptors to differentiate subsets of T and B lymphocytes can diagnose and differentiate polyclonal and monoclonal lymphomas, as discussed in Section 4-A. Cytological studies may also demonstrate the likely origin of metastatic lesions by finding squamous neoplastic cells in a lymph node neck swelling, or by finding a papillary thyroid lesion in neck lymph nodes. Primary growths of pharyngolarynx and thyroid can be small and occult in association with larger nodal metastases. Accurate cytology can point the way to a further appropriate sequence of diagnostic investigations. Finally core biopsy by percutaneous needling is widely used and is the preferred diagnostic method for solid breast lumps and other deeper lumps where tissue diagnosis is required. In the examples which follow, candidates should exercise care in the choice and interpretation of investigation in order to direct and focus diagnostic and management pathways. Reuben D Glass and Vernon C Marshall


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations Candidate Information and Tasks M CAT 058-064 58

Positive test for hepatitis C in a 26-year-old woman


Diagnosis of 'brain death' prior to organ donation


Breast biopsy concerns in a 20-year-old woman with a family history of breast cancer


An elbow injury in an 11-year-old schoolgirl


Sudden onset of chest pain and breathlessness in a 20-year-old woman


Atypical ureteric colic in a 25-year-old man


Investigation for male factor infertility in a 25-year-old man



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 058 Positive test for hepatitis C in a 26-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a 26-year-old woman who has been sent to see you because she was tested for hepatitis B and C and for HIV when she attended the Red Cross blood bank as a blood donor one week previously and was found to be hepatitis C positive. She has just been notified that she was found to be hepatitis C positive and advised to see her local doctor for further assessment. Other blood tests were negative for both hepatitis Band HIV. She had never given blood before, and had not been tested for any of these infections previously.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a relevant history from the woman. • Advise her about subsequent management and likely prognosis. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 058 can be found on page 321



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 059 Diagnosis of 'brain death' prior to organ donation CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a secondary school science teacher. Next week a doctor from the Australian Kidney Foundation is going to speak at a class seminar to all the Year 11 students about organ transplantation and the donation of organs and tissues from donors who have died. The teacher is to chair the seminar which has been titled The Gift of Life'. The teacher has heard about 'brain death' and found the protocol below on the internet and printed it out. He wants you to explain it to him in understandable language to help him comprehend the implications and facilitate his chairmanship. CONDITION 059. TABLE 1. Brain death protocol.

PREDETERMINED CRITERIA BEFORE TEST • Core body temperature > 35 °C • No central nervous system (CNS) depressant drugs for > 48 hours (longer if CNS depressants given in large amount or for a long time) • No neuromuscular blocking drugs for > 12 hours • No endocrine problems, eg hypothyroidism, hypopituitarism • PaC02 > 50 mmHg ▪ No hypoglycaemia TESTS 1. Pupils fixed and unresponsive to light 2. Absent corneal reflexes 3. Absent pain response in cranial nerve distribution 4. Absent gag reflex on endotracheal tube movement 5. Oculocephalic reflexes absent (no 'dolls' eyes' response) 6. Vestibulo-ocular reflexes absent (no nystagmus) 7. No spontaneous respirations after 10 minutes (patient ventilated on 100% oxygen at a rate of 4 breaths/min with a tidal volume of 7 mL/kg). Arterial blood gases taken at 5 and 10 minutes. BRAIN DEATH Diagnosis to be made by two doctors independently including the intensive care consultant. Neither will be a member of the transplant team where organ donation is considered. Two groups of tests, preferably separated by 24 hours. The results of examination must be recorded in the case notes or a suitable devised form.

YOUR TASK IS TO: • Discuss the subject with him and respond to his queries. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 059 can be found on page 325



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 060 Breast biopsy concerns in a 20-year-old woman with a family history of breast cancer CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your next patient for office consultation in a primary care community practice clinic is for review of a 20-year-old single woman whom you saw four weeks ago with a complaint of cyclical mastalgia for the last six months. Physical examination of the breasts was normal. She had no previous history of breast problems. Her 50-year-old mother, also a patient of the clinic, had a Stage 1 breast cancer treated by mastectomy and axillary dissection five years ago and is well on follow up. You ordered an ultrasound of the breasts in this young woman, which showed an impalpable, focal well-circumscribed solid parenchymal lesion in the right breast 1 cm in diameter consistent with a fibroadenoma. You referred her to the female surgeon who treated her mother, who suggested an ultrasound-guided percutaneous core biopsy to confirm the imaging diagnosis of benign fibroadenoma. The patient was also reassured that if this showed, as expected, a benign lesion, surgery would not be required, and she could be observed clinically with periodic ultrasound assessments. The patient is unhappy with this advice and feels she would like the lump removed and has come back to you to discuss this further. She is worried that the lump may be malignant or will become so, and feels that just taking a piece of it will leave her still worried.

YOUR TASK IS TO: • Discuss her concerns with her and advise her on the future management you would propose. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 060 can be found on page 329



Candidate information and Tasks

Condition 061 An elbow injury in an 11-year-old schoolgirl CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a hospital Emergency Department. Emily an 11-year-old schoolgirl, fell at school injuring her right elbow which is swollen and painful. You arranged for X-rays which have been taken and are shown below. You are interviewing Emily's mother after examining Emily and her X-rays. The elbow region was swollen, painful and tender, with marked pain on attempted movement. There were no signs causing concern on examination of the hands.


Advise the parent regarding diagnosis and treatment.

Answer questions from the observing examiner near the end of the interview.



The Performance Guidelines for Condition 061 can be found on page 331



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 062 Sudden onset of chest pain and breathlessness in a 20-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This young woman has presented to the Emergency Department of the local hospital with the sudden onset of right sided chest pain and breathlessness while walking to work. She is otherwise in good health and is a nonsmoker. Physical examination of the chest showed no definite abnormality. Her breathlessness is less now. A chest X-ray has been taken, and is illustrated below. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Examine and interpret the patient's chest X-ray.

Explain to the patient the diagnosis and how she should be treated.

There is NO need to take any further history from the patient NOR repeat the physical examination.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 062 can be found on page 334


063 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 063 Atypical ureteric colic in a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a medical officer in the hospital followup clinic. A few days ago your next patient, a 25-year-old driver, previously in good health, attended the Emergency Department with very severe acute colicky mid-line lower abdominal pain. Abdominal examination was normal. Because the patient's urine tested positive for blood, a diagnosis of atypical ureteric colic was made. The pain was controlled by an injection of pethidine. A plain X-ray of the abdomen was normal so an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) was arranged. The films are available for you to review (see below), but a formal report from the radiologist has not yet been received. The patient is seeing you today to find out the result of the IVP. He is now well and has been straining his urine but no calculus has been found.


Examine the IVP film, and give a commentary to the examiner.

Explain the X-ray findings to the patient.

Advise the patient about further management.

CONDITION 063. FIGURE 1. Intravenous pyelogram

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 063 can be found on page 337


064 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 064 Investigation for male factor infertility in a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS A married couple (husband 25, wife 23 years) have been trying to conceive for the last 12 months.

Examination of both the husband and the wife is normal. Investigations arranged by you, from a general practice setting, have shown she is ovulating each month, and has patent Fallopian tubes. The husband's recent semen analysis is not normal. His result is as follows: SEMEN ANALYSIS Collected after three days of abstinence. Examined 30 minutes after collection by masturbation, normal values in brackets Volume 6 mL Count 2 million/mL Motility 20% Velocity 20 microns/second Abnormal morphology 95% Antisperm antibodies nil

(2-6 mL) (Greater than 20 million/mL) (Greater than 40%) (Greater than 30 microns/second) (Less than 80%) (Nil)

The husband has come to see you today for the result of the semen specimen. His wife is aware of her results. She was unable to come today. When you examined him previously, you found no abnormality on general or genital examination. Both testes were normal in size (20 mL estimated volume), felt normal in consistency, there was no indication of a varicocele or hydrocele. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further relevant and focused history from the husband in regard to the results obtained. • Advise the husband regarding the couple's fertility problem. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 064 can be found on page 340


2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations

2-C Choice and Interpretation of Investigations Performance Guidelines MCAT 058-064


Positive test tor hepatitis C in a 26-year-old woman


Diagnosis of 'brain death' prior to organ donation


Breast biopsy concerns in a 20-year-old woman with a family history of breast cancer


An elbow injury in an 11-year-old schoolgirl


Sudden onset of chest pain and breathlessness in a 20-year-old woman


Atypical ureteric colic in a 25-year-old man


Investigation for male factor infertility in a 25-year-old man


058 Performance Guidelines

Condition 058 Positive test for hepatitis C in a 26-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the ability of the candidate to take a focused history assessing the possible mechanism for her becoming hepatitis C positive, and then to appropriately advise the patient in regard to the mode of contracting the disease, the tests required to assess the current activity of the disease, the likely long-term outcome, whether any treatment is likely to be helpful, the likely possibility of transmitting the disease to other people, and the need for notification of the disease, EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: The candidate will be expected to take an appropriate history from you to determine how the hepatitis C infection occurred, and whether you are likely to spread it to another individual. The candidate will also be expected to provide you with information concerning the investigations now required to assess any potential adverse effect of the hepatitis C virus on your body and whether you have cleared the infection spontaneously. Advice concerning your subsequent management will also be given and the need for notification of the disease to the local state health department within five days. The following history is likely to be sought from you (give answers to specific questions as outlined below): • Information in regard to likely cause of the hepatitis C infection ~ You were an intermittent intravenous drug-user over a two-year period, but last had a 'shot' about six years ago. ~ On occasions you had shared needles with a friend. ~ You have never had a blood transfusion or given blood products ~ You have had two sexual partners in your life. The first relationship lasted three years and the second, the current one, has lasted four years. You married your current partner two years ago. ~ No family history of hepatitis of any sort. ~ No previous operations or illnesses. ~ No tattoos or body piercing ~ You work in a hospital as a cleaner. ~ You never had a needlestick injury • You feel well, have a normal level of energy and no difficulties at work • In response to any questions about symptoms (such as change in appetite, change in weight, skin changes, abdominal discomfort, bowel function) reply that there have been no such problems. • Your alcohol intake is 1 or 2 glasses of wine a day. • You are taking the oral contraceptive pill (Microgynon 30®) and wish to have a child in about two years time. • You have no past history of clinical hepatitis. You have never been jaundiced.


058 Performance Guidelines

After taking your history, the candidate should explain to you that the infection is likely to have occurred as a result of your intravenous drug use.

You are likely to be advised that you need blood tests to define whether the infection has cleared spontaneously from your body (polymerase chain reaction [PCR] test) and whether it has had any effect on your liver function (liver function tests). Knowledge of these results will then determine what the subsequent risks to you are.

Questions to ask if not already covered: •

'Do I need to have any more tests?'

'Will I be able to have a baby?'

'Can anyone catch this infection from me?'

'Must you notify this to the health department?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE History taking should include: •

Information in regard to the likely cause of the hepatitis C infection as outlined in instructions to patient.

Current status •

She has no current symptoms of liver disease: no tiredness, bruising, itch, appetite change, abdominal discomfort, gastrointestinal bleeding, leg swelling.

Alcohol intake is moderate.

Investigations Investigations required are those to assess any effect of hepatitis C on her liver, and whether the actual viral infection has spontaneously cleared, (i.e. liver function tests and a polymerase chain reaction test for hepatitis C virus [HCV PCR]). In addition to the above tests, the possibility of blood group immunisation due to the use of shared needles needs to be assessed by the indirect Coombs Test. If positive this will influence the care required in a pregnancy. Counselling In counselling about hepatitis C and risk to the patient, the candidate is expected to know that hepatitis C is a viral infection transmitted mainly via infected human blood. In most patients the diagnosis is made only when the disease is established and chronic. In this patient, the exposure was almost certainly at the time of intravenous drug use 6-8 years ago. In order to best identify the risk of liver disease, LFTs and HCV PCR should be performed •

An HCV PCR should be performed to help determine if the patient has spontaneously cleared the infection.

In any patient, if serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is persistently normal (three estimations over a six month period) the prognosis is good and it is likely no long-term adverse liver effects will ever be found. In this patient if ALT is normal on the first test, given the likely exposure was many years ago, the patient can be reassured, but further ALT monitoring should still be advised.


058 Performance Guidelines

• If ALT is elevated, referral to a gastroenterologist would be appropriate for full liver assessment, including biopsy, as antiviral therapy, including interferon and ribavirin, may be of use if there is significant fibrosis in the biopsy specimen. Ultimately liver failure and liver transplantation may be required in a small percentage of cases, and the patient is also at increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. When the above aspects have been sorted out, a decision can be made regarding the advisability of a pregnancy. Pregnancy should not be allowed until at least 6 months has elapsed after cessation of antiviral therapy, if this has been given, due to the teratogenicity of the ribavirin. If pregnancy is to be allowed, the oral contraceptive pill should be ceased and the pregnancy awaited. The chance of the baby being infected by vertical transmission during the pregnancy is about 5% in patients who have a positive PCR for HCV. Counselling about hepatitis C and risk to others Prevention of infection of others can only be achieved by ensuring all people who come in contact with her blood take appropriate precautions, and that the sharing of needles is never done. There is no risk of hepatitis C transmission by hugging, kissing, casual contact, sharing food or eating utensils. However it is important to avoid sharing objects with potential for blood contamination, such as razors and toothbrushes. The risk of vertical transmission is very low. There are no recommendations against breastfeeding. The risk of spreading this infection during sexual activity is extremely low, and there is little or no evidence that condom usage will be of value in protecting her husband from his very low risk of getting infected in this way. Hepatitis C is a notifiable disease — notification is confidential. Patient education The good candidate will seek to provide the patient with appropriate supplementary patient education material. KEY ISSUES • Taking a focused history in regard to determining the source of the infection. • Advising the patient appropriately regarding subsequent care, the risk of liver pathology, and the need to ensure blood transmission does not occur, as this would be likely to result in hepatitis C infection in the recipient. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to recognise the need for LFT (ALT) assessments. • Advising the patient of a benign course of disease in all instances. COMMENTARY Hepatitis C is a single stranded RNA virus. Risk factors for hepatitis C infection include intravenous drug use (70%), sexual exposure (-10%), blood transfusion (6%), occupational exposure (3%), unknown (-10%). The risks of tattoos, body piercing and intranasal cocaine are not well defined. The viral infection is established and chronic at the time of diagnosis in most patients. If identified early, treatment with interferon within 3 to 6 months of infection can prevent chronicity in 98% of patients.


058 Performance Guidelines

The natural history of hepatitis C infection is that 15-50% resolve completely with no adverse end result and normal liver function (i.e. PCR is negative and liver function and ALT are normal). The remaining 50-75% will have chronic infection (PCR positive). Twenty percent of those with an elevated ALT will develop cirrhosis, of which 1-5% will develop hepatocellular carcinoma, and 20% will develop liver failure requiring transplantation. LFTs and HCV PCR therefore need to be done to assign the patient to the appropriate group. This station requires that the candidate has knowledge of the natural history of hepatitis C and how this infection is detected, monitored and treated. Good communication skills are required to address sensitive issues in a situation where the patient is likely to be very anxious, having just been informed about a potentially serious infection. The station examines the ability of the candidate to take a focused medical history, relating to potential source of the infection, and any effects on her health. The patient needs to be advised about the necessary investigations (blood tests for HCV PCR and LFTs) and why these are required. Counselling skills are evaluated as the candidate talks with the patient about the possible effects of the hepatitis C virus on her health and the potential of passing on the infection to others. There is a good opportunity at this first consultation to establish a good rapport, to give some basic education about hepatitis C. to provide some reassurance about transmission risk, and to set the scene for the next visit when the ordered test results will be discussed. Candidates should be aware that hepatitis C is a notifiable disease with confidentiality maintained.


059 Performance Guidelines

Condition 059 Diagnosis of 'brain death' prior to organ donation AIMS OF STATION • To assess the candidate's knowledge of the principles of diagnosis of brain death and its certification. • To assess the candidate's communication skills in public education by discussing and explaining aspects of cadaver organ donation in the context of brain death with a layperson. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The standardised 'patient' in this instance is a secondary school science teacher with enquiries as described. Responses and questions will depend upon the clarity of explanation and information from the doctor. Questions to be asked unless already covered: • 'What does'brain death'mean?' • What are these predetermined criteria about?' • 'Can you explain these tests to me?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE You would expect the imminent medical graduate to understand clearly the principles, although not necessarily the detail, of the diagnosis of brain death and its implications in gaining of consent for cadaver organ donation as outlined in the commentary. KEY ISSUES • Ability to discuss principles of 'brain death' to a lay person. • Ability to discuss principles of cadaveric organ donation for transplantation CRITICAL ERROR - none defined

COMMENTARY The candidate should be familiar with legislation in Australia (which is broadly similar to that pertaining in most developed countries) providing for legal certification of death by either of two methods: • permanent and irreversible cessation of heart beat and loss of cardiac function; and • permanent and irreversible loss of brain function The concept of 'brain death', as an alternative to 'cardiac death' has important implications in transplantation of organs and tissues from a cadaver donor. Removing organs once brain death has been diagnosed and certified improves significantly the prospect of immediate function of the organ graft in the recipient after revascularisation in its new host. Immediate graft function is essential for successful heart and liver transplantation, and highly desirable in grafts of kidneys, lung, pancreas, bowel and other tissues.


059 Performance Guidelines

Removal of organs from the brain-dead, heart-beating cadaver with permanent and irreversible apnoea (cessation of spontaneous breathing) due to brain stem death, whose respiration is maintained by artificial mechanical ventilation of the lungs, minimises the critical time of 'warm' ischaemia before cold perfusion of the removed organs. Thus, immediate function of the graft in its new host can be anticipated provided total ischaemic times after organ removal do not exceed the tolerated time periods for the individual organs — around 6 hours for hearts and up to 24-48 hours for liver, kidneys and other organs. Clearly the diagnosis of irreversible and permanent loss of brain and brain stem function must be an unequivocal and certain one, with absolutely no prospect of error. We need tests of absolute specificity and sensitivity. The several criteria and tests listed outline the ways of ensuring that irreversible loss of function has occurred both in the higher cortical brain functions, and also in the functions of the brain stem, where the respiratory centre and cranial nerve origins are clustered. The criteria listed for diagnosis of brain death first require the appropriate clinical setting (usually massive head injury or a catastrophic stroke), and the presence of deep and totally unresponsive coma with permanent loss of function of the respiratory centre, so no spontaneous breathing can occur because the brain stem centre for breathing has been irreversibly destroyed (and in the absence of respiratory activity, cardiac arrest inevitably follows within 30 minutes or less unless ventilation is restored by artificial ventilation). The other criteria are the exclusion of other possible contributors to prolonged coma (hypothermia, continuing central nervous system paralysis from drugs or curare-like respiratory depressants, or gross metabolic and endocrine disturbances). The tests then employed as listed in the criteria of brain death are diagnostic of destroyed and absent brain stem reflexes, involving successively the midbrain, pons and medulla, so that loss of brain stem function is progressively confirmed from above downwards, testing reflexes subserved by cranial nerves 2 through 12 via their sensory and motor pathways, and the brain stem reflex arcs from highest to lowest level. Permanent irreversible apnoea (failure of spontaneous breathing) due to death of the respiratory centre is confirmed over a 10-minute interval in the presence of a high level of build up of carbon dioxide in the blood, which in the presence of a responsive respiratory centre will stimulate spontaneous breathing. Criteria for confirmation of findings is by two groups of tests separated by an appropriate period of observation, and confirmed by two independent doctors, including a senior and experienced clinician. Meticulous application of these defined and universally accepted worldwide criteria has ensured that brain death can be diagnosed clinically with absolute confidence and without any risk of misdiagnosis. Diagnosis of brain death is made by meticulous clinical observations and tests and does not require elaborate technology for certainty of diagnosis. The doctor here has been put on the spot by the bluntness and directness of the science teacher's request. How should the request best be handled? It may be best initially to broaden the discussion into a general outline of the usual setting of cadaver organ donation and the tragic circumstances of sudden and unexpected death of a loved one highlighting the many sensitive human, ethical and cultural issues which make empathie and


059 Performance Guidelines

compassionate communication between the treating and transplant medical teams and grieving relatives and next of kin so essential. Certainly all doctors should be conversant with the laws governing consent for donation given by the next of kin, but the request would come normally from an experienced senior member of the intensive care team, and not from a junior Hospital Medical Officer (HMO). Initial discussion with the candidate could then be followed by a subsequent briefing in which the doctor could read up about the more specific details of diagnosis of brain death and the science and ethics of cadaver organ transplantation before meeting the teacher again. This station is a rather extreme example of the increasingly common practice of patients presenting to doctors with printed internet reports related to their presenting problem, often quite detailed but not always appropriate in their perspective or application to the particular problem posed by the patient. In this instance, the isolated table the teacher brought was presumably taken from a larger general account, which would be more relevant than the specifics of agonochemical events and the specifics of tests used to diagnose permanent and irreversible death of the brain and brain stem. The essential principle is that the criteria and tests provide the legal basis for medical certification of the death of a person (because the brain is dead) even though other functions of the body (heartbeat and machine-driven ventilation) are still going on with the support of machines and transfusions so the person (who is now actually a cadaver) 'looks alive'. Knowledgeable candidates should be able to give a general description, similar to the above, of brain death. In particular, that: • all the vital brain stem centres have been destroyed, including the respiratory centre and consciousness centre, so the condition presents as a totally unresponsive individual with permanent loss of consciousness, with permanent loss of the capacity to breathe: • the various tests described are tests of these brain stem and higher functions to be certain that all are permanently and irreversibly destroyed over a repeated period of observation: and • all other potential influences on consciousness (like effects of drugs) have been eliminated with certainty. Doctors should also know that the condition of brain death, its certification and its legal and ethical implications have been ratified by all major religions, and that the time of brain death is seen by theologians to equate with the time at which the soul leaves the body. It is also important to understand that brain death means death of the individual as surely as does recognition of death by cessation of heartbeat. Objections from next of kin to obtaining consent for organ donation after certification of brain death are usually cultural and emotional and associated with fear of mutilation of the body. The vegetative state comprises the condition of deep coma with present but ineffective spontaneous breathing and with retention of other brain stem activities and reflexes, requiring artificial feeding (and often respiratory assistance), and responding to a variety of stimuli. It is NOT brain death. Knowledgeable candidates will stress this fact.


059 Performance Guidelines

Much confusion in the public mind was initially stimulated by misinformed or unsubstantiated, (but sensational) reporting of doctors removing organs from struggling and responsive patients in whom brain death was said to be wrongly diagnosed. Doctors always need to employ great empathy and compassion in obtaining consent in indicating to the relatives of the brain dead individual what organs are to be removed for transplantation, and in answering direct questions from them in regard to these and other matters.


060 Performance Guidelines

Condition 060 Breast biopsy concerns in a 20-year-old woman with a family history of breast cancer AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's counselling and educational skills in a patient with concerns about familial breast cancer risk. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are very worried that this lump could be a cancer You feel it should be removed so you don't have to worry about it anymore. If the doctor's reassurances are clear and convincing, you are prepared to change your mind. If not, ask if you can have a second surgical opinion Opening statement: 'I think this lump should be removed'. Questions to ask if not already covered: • 'How can you be sure it's not a cancer?' • 'Isn't it likely to turn into a cancer'? • 'Can’t I just have it out and then forget about it? EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Reassurance about likely benign diagnosis, • Reassurance that impalpable fibroadenomas are very common in nonsymptomatic women on imaging and do not reguire excision and that they are not cancers and do not become cancerous. • Reassurance that the biopsy takes several representative pieces and can save unnecessary surgery and avoid potentially unsightly scarring. • Reassurance that with a homogeneous lesion such as this, the biopsy could be relied upon to give a definitive diagnosis. • Sympathy for concerns of patient about cancer, and about continuing clinical and ultrasound monitoring; reassurance of noninvasive nature of ultrasound monitoring: reassurance of noninvasive nature of ultrasound • Assurance that if patient is still concerned, the surgeon would be likely to accede to her wishes, and if not, she could be referred for a second opinion. • Whatever the patient decides, periodic followup with clinical and imaging reviews will be advisable because of her family history and her concerns. KEY ISSUES • Counselling and communication skills in dealing with an anxious patient. • Knowledge of pathology and natural history of breast fibroadenomas.


060 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERROR - none d e f i n e d

COMMENTARY The scenario illustrates a common problem. Breast cancer is very common in Australian women and around 1 in 14 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The risk is increased in the presence of family history of breast cancer in first degree relatives, as is the case here. This young patient requires regular clinical screening and appropriate imaging. The ultrasound ordered by the family doctor was appropriate as initial investigation. Note that her original problem (cyclical mastalgia) has now been replaced by the more serious problem of 'I have a breast lump which could be cancerous' Her natural reaction (which might be the correct solution to the problem) is 'I want it out.' Benign impalpable (or palpable) fibroadenomas and other benign parenchymal lesions are very common in this age group. We know from mass screening that benign lesions occur throughout all stages of life, and that the natural history of fibroadenomas may be to remain unchanged, to increase in size or to regress. No convincing evidence exists that benign fibroadenomas are premalignant, and much collateral evidence on screening programme followup suggests that they are not. Whether total excisional biopsy or partial core biopsy should be performed will depend on circumstances, but an appropriate core biopsy would take five or more representative samples and would be expected to give a definitively accurate diagnosis with minimal likelihood of either a falsely negative or falsely positive result, and with minimal morbidity in experienced hands. This lesion is impalpable and both clinical findings (normal breasts) and imaging findings (typical ultrasound appearance of a benign lesion) already favour a benign fibroadenoma. But these findings alone are no! enough, and pathological confirmation by biopsy is required additionally to make our reassurance quite positive ('triple test check' — clinical, imaging, and pathology all confirmed and negative for cancer). Pathology can be determined by fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) or by percutaneous image-guided needle core biopsy. Choice will depend on circumstances and availability of expert cytology and pathology services; but core biopsy will give a tissue diagnosis and has higher sensitivity and specificity, so is generally preferred. If the 'triple test' is negative, the lesion is virtually certain to be benign. The patient will require continuing periodic clinical and imaging review from her family doctor and surgeon. The surgeon's advice was therefore appropriate and concise, but she has not convinced the patient that it is the right plan. The utility of any advice regarding management is only relevant and helpful if patient acceptance is present. If this patient remains unconvinced and unhappy, despite repeated reinforcement by the family doctor, clearly the best decision may be to agree to her own wishes that the lesion is removed. This will require an image-guided needle localisation operation. It is unlikely that the surgeon would not agree to this, even though she (the surgeon) correctly regards core biopsy and observation as the best option.


061 Performance Guidelines

Condition 061 An elbow injury in an 11-year-old schoolgirl AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to identify a supracondylar humeral fracture on X-ray and advise regarding treatment.


The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: Your 11-year-old daughter, Emily, fell at school and now has a sore, painful swollen right elbow. The candidate has finished examining your child and has examined the X-rays. Opening statement and questions from the parent: • 'Is the arm broken, doctor?' • 'What treatment will she need?' • 'What about school and writing?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate would be expected to advise the parent and describe the diagnosis, initial treatment plan and followup in response to the questions along the following lines: (Expected responses in parentheses) • 'Is the arm broken?' (Yes. Emily has fractured the arm bone [humerus] just above the elbow. There is minimal displacement and no complications. She should get excellent results with full functional recovery). • 'What treatment will she need?'(\Ne will apply a back slab/plaster/splint to the elbow with a bandage and sling. No anaesthetic will be needed. Pain relief will be ensured by paracetamol as required, dose for age. She will need to keep the elbow in plaster for several weeks [4-6 weeks] as illustrated. She will need a first followup tomorrow to check plaster and fingers, and that she is comfortable with the plaster and sling. The parent should report earlier if hand or fingers swell further. She should sleep with arm supported on a pillow. Subsequent unrestricted use of hand and fingers should be encouraged with self-maintenance finger stretches). • 'What about school and writing?' (Can write as soon as finger movements allow this. Can return to school when pain eases in a day or two).

CONDITION 061. FIGURE 3. X-ray after application of backslab


061 Performance Guidelines

The examiner should ask the following question at seven minutes: 'What complication is most to be feared in these fractures if they are displaced?' (Vascular njury to the brachial artery). KEY ISSUES • •

Recognition of fracture on X-ray. Understanding principles and practice of management of an undisplaced uncomplicated closed supracondylar fracture.

Understanding of potential complications in this type of fracture.


Missing the diagnosis of fracture

Failing to arrange appropriate review and followup.

Failure to know of risk of vascular complications in displaced supracondylar fractures.

COMMENTARY Supracondylar humeral fractures are common in children following falls on the arm or hand. Undisplaced fractures or those with minor displacements can be treated without need for reduction by immobilising the elbow using a padded backslab or plaster (leaving shoulder and wrist and hand free to move) in the position of function of partial elbow-flexion of around 100° flexion. Severely displaced fractures will require reduction under anaesthesia and similar splintage after alignment is checked. A serious complication to be watched for is injury to the brachial artery from the anteriorly displaced upper fragment, giving ischaemia of the hand and fingers shown by pallor, insensitivity and absent radial pulse. Unless circulation is clearly restored after reduction, such ischaemia must be treated by open exploration of the fracture site and the injured artery with restoration of adequate blood flow by vascular surgery, otherwise Volkmann ischaemic contracture of forearm muscles can occur. Fortunately in the majority of cases, displacement is minor or alignment is readily corrected and no vascular complications are present; but circulation must always be checked by review after 24 hours, and parents and patients advised to report earlier if symptoms of numbness, finger swelling or severe hand pain occur. Immobilisation is usually only needed in children for 4-6 weeks and active mobilising exercises then begin. Emily would be expected to make a full functional recovery after this injury and did so as llustrated (Figure 4).


061 Performance Guidelines



062 Performance Guidelines

Condition 062 Sudden onset of chest pain and breathlessness in a 20-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise the right-sided pneumothorax on the chest X-ray and explain the diagnosis to the patient. The candidate needs to reassure the patient and then explain how the problem will be managed. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You developed chest pain while walking to work. A chest X-ray has just been done at the local hospital and you are about to be informed of the result of this. Opening statement •

'I've got a bit of a pain in my chest and I feel a bit breathless' — indicate site of pain which is on the right below the clavicle and at the back in the same area.

You were walking to work when the pain came on suddenly. You were also breathless. The pain is: •

sharp and stabbing (if asked it is not tight, heavy or gripping);

not made worse with every breath

worse if you take a deep breath;

also radiating to your shoulder tip; and

moderately severe at onset, but easing now

You also have: •

A feeling of breathlessness (not severe) at rest as well as on exertion.

An irritating dry cough - not severe or distressing

You are a nonsmoker and drink alcohol on social occasions only (2-4 standard drinks). You have no known drug sensitivities. You live 2 km from the hospital and there are several others at home most of the time. Indicate area where pain is felt, upper chest, both back and front. Also indicate that you are concerned about the cause of the pain and what the doctor will do to relieve it. Be cooperative and answer the doctor's guestions without evasiveness You have a moderate-sized pneumothorax, a partial collapse of the lung. The candidate must make the correct diagnosis, explain it to you and how the problem will be managed Inserting a catheter to take the free air out of the chest is a possible response, and admission to hospital may be recommended. If so, ask if you could be treated at home.


062 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Candidate should respond along the following lines: Response to patient • Pneumothorax is the diagnosis, confirmed by chest X-ray. A pneumothorax of this size may not need active treatment. It would be prudent and reasonable to admit the patient overnight for observation and serial X-ray. Sending the patient home if she lives nearby is a less acceptable option with a pneumothorax of this size. Recurrence is possible after spontaneous pneumothorax, and the recurrence rate is approximately 35% on the same side and 10-15% on opposite side. Most recurrences occur within 12 months. • The general consensus regarding the need for intercostal drainage is as follows: ~ If 25-30% or less lung collapse and no symptoms — observe. This is a reasonable option in this patient. ~ If 25-30% or less lung collapse and persisting symptoms — drain. The patient may fall into this category with observation. The pneumothorax is around 30% and her symptoms are currently mild. ~ If greater than 30% collapse, whether symptomatic or not — drain. Displaying clinical knowledge and skills • Aetiology of pneumothorax — rupture of bleb on surface of lung. • Nature of pain associated with pneumothorax — possibly due to tear of adhesion as lung collapses. • Associated breathlessness — depends on size of pneumothorax. • Confirmatory investigation — chest X-ray diagnostic. This is a moderate (25-30%) pneumothorax. It may need a formal chest drain. Inserting a catheter with a Heimlich valve is an option to be discussed should the pneumothorax increase in size. Demonstrating Communication skills • Reassuring approach to patient anxious about the cause of the pain. • The pain should be recognised as being of respiratory origin, rather than cardiac. KEY ISSUES • Correct interpretation of chest X-ray. • Explaining the diagnosis and appropriate management to the patient. CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to identify the pneumothorax on the chest X-ray.


062 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY Spontaneous pneumothorax is usually due to the rupture of a previously nonsymptomatic bleb on the pleural surface of the lung. Symptoms of breathlessness and local discomfort are proportional to the size of the pneumothorax which is often small, in which case no active interventional treatment is required. Elective intercostal catheter drainage is indicated for a large (> 30% chest volume) initial pneumothorax or progressive increase in size on serial X-rays. The common smaller size pneumothoraces are often difficult to identify on plain X-ray, even with erect films and magnified views. Larger pneumothoraces, as illustrated, are usually easy to identify.




Examples of pneumothoraces and haemopneumothorax on plain X-ray (Figures 2,3) and chest CT (Figure 4)


063 Performance Guidelines

Condition 063 Atypical ureteric colic in a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to interpret an X-ray of an intravenous pyelogram (IVP). explain the findings to the patient, and give further advice about future management to the patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 25-year-old driver who has always kept in good health. A few days ago you suddenly developed very severe lower abdominal pain for which you attended the Emergency Department at this hospital. You were diagnosed as most probably having a stone in one ureter (the tubes which connect the kidneys to the bladder). The pain was relieved by an injection and has not returned. An X-ray of your kidneys was arranged (IVP). You were told to strain your urine but so far nothing has been found. Today you are attending the follow up clinic for the result of the X-ray. Be yourself. Be more concerned about the kidney abnormality (which the candidate should explain to you) than about the possibility of a stone in the ureter. Questions to ask if not already covered: • 'What does this mean for the future?' • 'Why is my kidney in the wrong place?'— ask this if the candidate advises you that your right kidney is not in its normal position. • 'Is the stone still in there somewhere?' • 'Will I get another stone?' • 'Is this kidney likely to develop a cancer?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should in commentary to the examiner interpret the IVP appropriately and indicate that the abnormality shown is a left-sided crossed fused ectopic kidney with separate calyceal systems and ureters. This anomaly is obvious on the film. The abnormal position of the right kidney must be described. There is no evidence of a calculus in either ureter on the single film available The candidate, in discussion with the patient, should: • check and confirm that no stone has been found on straining the urine. Reassure patient that on the X-ray there is no sign of any urinary calculus. Avoid alarming the patient about the congenital renal abnormality. • explain that the stone is likely to have been passed spontaneously. No need to strain urine anymore. Ensure adequate fluid intake in future especially in hot weather. Report further symptoms. Inform future medical attendants of the renal abnormality, especially if suffering from an abdominal complaint. Estimation of serum calcium to exclude hyperparathyroidism would be appropriate.


063 Performance Guidelines

Patient Counselling/Education — the abnormal position of the right kidney would explain the atypical nature of the pain. Otherwise the renal abnormality is of no significance and needs no treatment except awareness of its presence in the case of trauma to the left side of the abdomen or left sided abdominal pain.

The condition is congenital (present from birth) and variations in kidney position are quite common. The patient should be reassured concerning the future, although warned that recurrence of renal/ureteric colic may occur if further stone formation occurs. KEY ISSUES • •

Interpretation of investigations — must identify abnormal position of right kidney on the X-ray. Initial management plan — no further action required as stone has most likely passed,

Patient counselling/education — reassurance, explanation of renal abnormalities. Ensure patient awareness if any future abdominal pain occurs.


Failure to describe abnormal position of right kidney.

COMMENTARY Although intravenous urography/pyelography (IVP) is now largely replaced by computed tomography (CT) when scanning for suspected urinary calculi, in this case a urogram is used to assess the candidate's ability to interpret an X-ray finding which is quite obvious if anatomical knowledge is sound. Congenital anomalies of the kidney and its vascular and urinary drainage systems are relatively common: up to 10% of infants may be born with some anomaly of the genitourinary system. Unilateral renal agenesis (congenital absence of one kidney) occurs in about 1 in every 1000 births, and may be accompanied in a male by the absence of the vas deferens on the affected side. In the female, uterine and vaginal abnormalities commonly co-exist. The kidney begins intrauterine development in the pelvis, ascending to its adult position on the posterior abdominal wall by birth, and acquiring fresh blood supply from progressively higher blood vessels with exclusion of others as differential growth of body segmental somites occurs. Ectopic kidneys One or both kidneys may be in an abnormal position. Most ectopic kidneys are pelvic in position, and may present as a pelvic mass, or be felt on rectal or vaginal examination. An ectopic kidney may be on its own side, or on the side of the normal kidney (crossed ectopia), and may be fused with the normal kidney or pelvic in site — as is this instance of crossed fused renal ectopia. In 'pancake' kidney a single pelvic renal mass is served by two collecting systems and ureters. Ectopic pelvic kidneys usually receive their blood supply from local vessels; the ureter of the displaced kidney often crosses to its own side and opens into the bladder in the normal position.


063 Performance Guidelines

As kidneys ascend from the pelvis they normally remain separate. If they come into contact and adhere, a horseshoe kidney may result, the kidneys being joined by an isthmus, which the ureters need to cross to descend. Anomalies of the urinary collecting and drainage systems can predispose to urinary obstruction from hydronephrosis or calculus. Obstructive renal and ureteric pain (renal 'colic') is often an acute, constant and unremitting severe pain felt from the site of the kidney towards bladder, penis and testis. An abnormal site of the kidney with anomalous referral of pain can cause difficulties in diagnosis until functional imaging reveals the anomalous anatomy.


064 Performance Guidelines

Condition 064 Investigation for male factor infertility in a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to advise a husband with an abnormal semen specimen of the subsequent evaluation and management required for the couple to best achieve a pregnancy. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: The doctor will generally be expected to advise you (the husband) of the significance of the semen findings, what further evaluation is required, and what treatment is likely to be given in an attempt to achieve a pregnancy. If there is no reversible factor present, and the semen analysis does not improve with time it will be necessary for you and your wife to consider the place of IVF, or the use of donor sperm not involving the use of IVF. List of appropriate answers: •

You are happy to have other tests done, or undertake treatment if this will lead to an improvement in your semen specimen or achieve a pregnancy.

You work in an office writing computer programs for the banking industry.

You have had no contact with any chemicals.

You have had no surgery to your testes or inguinal region.

You have never had any testicular trauma.

You do not smoke and have 3-4 glasses of alcohol, usually wine, per week.

You are not on any drugs and have never taken any tablets except Panadol® when you have a headache.

You have never used any drugs of addiction or hashish.

You have never used anabolic steroids.

You had mumps when aged 10 years There was no testicular involvement (give this latter information only when specifically asked).

You have not had any viral illness, or high fever, nor were you given antibiotics over the last three months (these could have resulted in the current semen specimen being abnormal).

You do not use saunas.

If asked whether you would accept the use of donor sperm to achieve a pregnancy in your wife, indicate 'no'.

If asked whether you and your wife would accept the use of IVF to achieve a pregnancy, indicate 'yes'.


064 Performance Guidelines

Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'Why is my test so bad?'

'Can't you do something to improve it?'

'If there are two million sperm present, why doesn t a pregnancy occur?”

• 'Will a change in my diet help?' • 'Will IVF be required for all pregnancies my wife and I want?' Only ask this question if the candidate has already discussed the use of IVF. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The history should cover the likely causes of the abnormal semen specimen, as detailed in the patient answers. The candidate should advise along the following lines. • One semen specimen is insufficient to make a meaningful prediction of fertility potential. Preferably three specimens obtained about three months apart are required. If these show the same findings as the first one, then clearly there is a problem which is almost certainly a major factor in the infertility. • It is unlikely a cause of the abnormal semen specimen will be found. • A number of blood tests should be performed to provide information as to the likely reversibility of the problem. This would include at least the measurement of serum FSH and testosterone levels. If the FSH is high, spontaneous improvement in the analysis is less likely. • If the semen analysis improves spontaneously with time, the possibility of achieving a pregnancy is increased. • There is no documented evidence for the use of hormone or other treatment, in improving the semen specimen, • There is a definite place for the use of IVF, with intracytoplasmic sperm injection in the oocyte (ICSI). This has a pregnancy rate of about 20-40%/cycle. IVF without the use of ICSI has poor results (about 2-5% pregnancy rate per cycle of transfer). • There is a place for the use of donor sperm and performing artificial insemination, if this had been acceptable. Pregnancy rate is about 20% per cycle of insemination. Use of donor semen is cheaper and more straightforward than other methods of treatment such as IVF, but the baby would not contain any of the husband's genetic material. • Intrauterine insemination using his poor semen sample has a very poor success rate (about 1-2% pregnancies/cycle of insemination). KEY ISSUES • Need for appropriate history from husband. • Knowledge of appropriate tests to assess him, and of the possibility of improvement with time. • Need for empathie counselling. • Ability to understand that a definitive cause is unlikely to be found.


064 Performance Guidelines


Failure to advise that at least a second semen specimen (3 months after the first) must be examined.

Failure to recognise that persisting severe abnormality of the semen specimen as currently obtained will result in a very low pregnancy rate.

Failure to understand that ICSI (within IVF) is the best method of achieving pregnancy using his genetic material.

COMMENTARY In the advice to this young man, it must be recognised that a single sperm test is unreliable as a basis on which to make a meaningful fertility prediction. This test must be repeated 2-3 months later and preferably again after a further 3 months. The comprehensive aspect of the counselling is based upon the assumption that a repeat specimen would show a similar abnormality. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: •

Failure to repeat the semen specimen analysis a few months later (i.e. lack of understanding that one semen analysis's result is of little predictive value).

Failure to ask questions to define the possible causes of the abnormal semen specimen.

Failure to ask whether the use of donor semen would be acceptable, as this is very effective and cheap, although the child produced would not obtain DNA from the husband


2-D: The General Consultation Barry P McGrath 'In the field of observation, chance favours the prepared mind.' Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

Objectives of the medical consultation — How I Do It' The medical consultation is the cornerstone of medical practice. A properly conducted consultation establishes an effective doctor-patient relationship. The consultation is the basis of the diagnostic and treatment formulations, the vehicle for a patient's education about health promotion, clinical problems, disease processes and test interpretations. It can also motivate a patient to follow treatment recommendations. It is usually not a 'one-off encounter; the first consultation is generally followed by further consultation visits at variable intervals which can extend over many years. The following are the broad objectives of a medical consultation: • Establish or build on an effective, professional doctor-patient relationship. • Determine and evaluate the patient's physical and psychological symptoms. • Identify abnormal physical and mental state signs. • Define the clinical problem(s) — the patient's principal condition(s). • Choose and interpret appropriate investigations. • Reach the correct diagnosis (the doctor is progressively developing and testing hypotheses). • Explain to the patient the nature of the condition, its physical, psychological and social consequences. • Reach agreement with the patient on a plan of management. • Institute treatment. • Arrange referral to other clinicians or health workers appropriately. • Devise methods of relieving pain and suffering. • Provide advice on health promotion. • Reassure the worried well.

Some commonly encountered problems during a clinical consultation are: • failure to observe common courtesies; • failure to establish levels of comprehension and communication capabilities; • ignoring emotional réponses and concerns; • overuse of directed, closed questions; • excessive use of leading or loaded questions; • vague or complex questions; • using jargon; • disjointed questioning; • abrupt topic changes; • lack of expressiveness in interviewer's body language or voice; • not discerning patient's ideas and beliefs about the problem; • narrowing the focus of enquiry too soon.


2-D The General Consultation

Setting the scene for a medical consultation This may take place at any number of settings: general practice, Emergency Department, hospital ward, outpatient/ambulatory care, and specialist consulting rooms. The goals of the consultation will vary with the setting and the urgency of the clinical problem(s). Whatever the setting, the doctor must respect the patient's safety, privacy, dignity, modesty, physical and psychological well-being. Attention should be paid to the interview setting (for example, the seating arrangement). Medical interviewers must be appropriately dressed, with a professional, friendly demeanour and introduce themselves in a way that identifies their roles. The interviewer, if a medical student or if not the patient's usual medical practitioner (for example, a trainee), will need to seek the patient's permission to conduct the consultation. Communication skills First impressions, as in most human encounters, are very important. An expert medical interviewer may adopt a variety of techniques, with an underlying self-questioning approach: 'How can I connect with this patient?' Frequently a patient will attend with a partner, family member or friend. Establishing whether or not the patient wishes, or indeed, if it is appropriate, to proceed to interview in the presence of 'a significant other' needs to be established early. Depending on the circumstances, the interviewer may seek to conduct the medical consultation with the patient alone initially and then subsequently involve the 'significant other' or family members, but again only with the patient's permission. Patient-related factors and doctor-related factors can influence doctor-patient communication. It is critically important to establish, as soon as possible, if there are any impediments to communication such as dementia, physical disability (such as deafness, blindness, stroke), language or cultural attitude. A skilled medical interviewer will exhibit: •

an encouraging, warm and empathie manner;

nonjudgmental attitude;

good eye contact;

respect for patient's dignity, awareness of any discomfort;

alertness and responsiveness to nonverbal as well as verbal cues;

good listening skills;

use of mainly open questions; and

note-taking that does not interfere with patient rapport. Some

commonly encountered problems include: •

failure to observe common courtesies:

failure to establish levels of comprehension and communication capabilities:

ignoring emotional responses and concerns;

overuse of directed, closed questions, excessive use of leading or loaded questions;

vague or complex questions;

using jargon;

disjointed questioning;

abrupt topic changes;

lack of expressiveness in interviewer's body language or voice;

not discerning patient's ideas and beliefs about the problem; and

narrowing the focus of enquiry too soon.



The General Consultation

These issues relating to communication skills are vitally important and are re-emphasised here. They are also addressed in a number of excellent text books and in many of the case 1,2,3,4 scenarios. Clinical reasoning in medical history-taking Clinical reasoning mostly involves an efficient, hypothetic-deductive process. The diagnosis is often made early in the medical consultation. Usually a list of alternative hypotheses, or differential diagnoses, are considered, ranked and further addressed Additional information is obtained from the physical examination and specific investigations which serve to confirm the diagnoses, determine their severity and effects and to exclude alternative (differential) diagnoses. The following points are germane to the process of clinical reasoning: • Iterative nature of process: the diagnostic hypothesis is continually being strengthened refined, modified or totally reformulated on the basis of responses to questions. • 80% of clinical diagnoses are reached on the basis of history alone. • Clinical examination often provides confirmatory information; in some cases a new diagnosis is defined. • Investigations provide the diagnosis in only about 10% of instances. The process of problem identification is summarised in the accompanying figure SECTION 2-D. FIGURE 1.

Process of problem identification

1 MR Sanders, C Mitchell, GJA Byrne (eds). Me di cal C o ns ul ti n g Ski l l s-Beh avi o ur al an d I n te rp ers on al Di m e nsi o ns o f H eal t h C ar e Addison Wesley Longman Australia Pty. Ltd. Melbourne Australia 1997. 2 SA Cole and J Bird (eds). Th e M edi c al I n ter vi ew — T he T hr e e-F u ncti on Ap p ro ac h . Mosby Inc. St Louis Missouri USA. 2000. 3 M Mloyd, R Boor (eds). Com m u ni ca ti o n Skil l s f or M e di ci ne . Churchill Livingstone. New York USA. 1996. 4 T h e Cl i ni cal Enco u nt er: A G ui d e t o th e Me di cal I n te rvi ew an d C as e Pr es en t ati on . Mosby Inc. St Louis Missouri 1999.



The General Consultation

The structure of the medical history This is usually arranged along the following lines: •

basic information about the patient

the presenting complaint: ~ history of the presenting complaint ~ description of the presenting complaint: - site - severity/intensity - quality/character - time course - setting/context - aggravating and relieving factors - associated features -

risk factors

other medical problems: ~ related to presenting complaint ~ additional problems

medication, habits and allergies

systems review

past medical history

family history

social and personal history

psychiatric history

Barry P McGrath



The General Consultation

2-D The General Consultation Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 065-073 65

Acute chest pain in a 60-year-old man


Palpitations and dizziness in a 50-year-old man


Muscle weakness and urinary symptoms in a 60-year-old man


Aches and pains in a 62-year-old man


Lack of energy in a 56-year-old suntanned man


Recent haematemesis in a 50-year-old man


Anaemia in a 28-year-old pregnant woman


Acute vertigo in a 50-year-old man


Urinary frequency in a 60-year-old man



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 065 Acute chest pain in a 60-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a hospital Emergency Department. You are asked to see a 60-year-old man complaining of acute chest pain. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take a concise, relevant and focused history.

Present a summary of the patient's history for the examiner, who will then give you the findings on physical examination which you request.

Tell the examiner your provisional diagnosis and the reasons for this.

Interpret the ECG to the examiner (the ECG will be given to you at about 7 minutes into this consultation).

Institute emergency treatment.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 065 can be found on page 356



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 066 Palpitations and dizziness in a 50-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a hospital Emergency Department. You are asked to see a 50-year-old man complaining of palpitations and dizziness over the past three days. He has not seen a doctor for the past 10 years and at that last assessment he was told his blood pressure was elevated. His current blood pressure is 150/96 mmHg. The symptoms are still present when you see him to take his history. He is lying down on a trolley.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a concise, relevant and focused history. • Present a summary of the patient's history to the examiner, who will then give you the findings on physical examination. • Tell the examiner your differential diagnosis. • Interpret the ECG to the examiner (the ECG will be given to you by the examiner about 7 minutes into the consultation).


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 066 can be found on page 363



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 067 Muscle weakness and urinary symptoms in a 60-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a 60-year-old man who is complaining of tiredness, weakness and urinary symptoms. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take a history from the patient.

Ask the examiner for the findings of a selective and focused physical examination you would perform.

State to the examiner any relevant investigations you would order.

Briefly explain to the patient what you believe to be the cause of his symptoms and the first step in management (you are not expected to discuss treatment in detail).

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 067 can be found on page 368



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 068 Aches and pains in a 62-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS r


You are working in a general practice You next patient is retiree and aged 62 years. He s consulting you about aches and pains, and you have just finished taking a history, which was as follows: Over the last six weeks, he has had a gradual onset of pain across the upper part of the back, neck and shoulders which feel stiff. In the past week or so his hips are also feeling stiff and sore. Since retirement two years ago he has been playing golf at least three times per week and thought that he may have been overdoing it. At first the pain was just an aching feeling, but is now more definite pain but hard to describe. It is continuous, worsened by movement and is keeping him awake at night. The aching and stiffness is worse early in the morning and he finds it difficult to get out of bed because of muscle weakness and pain which improves during the day. Pain is not relieved by aspirin or Brufen®, nor worsened by coughing. There is no radiation to the arms. Pain is felt in the muscles but not in the joints, although these feel stiff especially after inactivity. He has not played golf for a week. He has noted a little difficulty in lifting himself up from a chair. Muscles feel 'as if they are losing their strength'. He has felt much more tired than usual over the last few weeks, especially after golf. His appetite is not as good as usual. He thinks he may have lost a little weight and sometimes feels hot and slightly sweaty at night in bed. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Specify to the examiner the essential features you would like to know from a focused physical examination of this patient. The examiner will give you the results and ask you questions about your provisional diagnosis and further investigations. • Answer the questions put to you by the examiner. • Advise the patient of your diagnostic and management plans. You do not need to take any further history. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 068 can be found on page 371



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 069 Lack of energy in a 56-year-old suntanned man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are consulting in a general practice setting in Melbourne, Victoria. Your next patient is a 56-year-old industrial chemist. He is complaining of tiredness, although he has just returned from holidays in Queensland and appears quite suntanned. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take a concise, relevant and focused history.

After four minutes, tell the examiner what would be the most significant clinical signs you would search for on physical examination, including office laboratory tests. The examiner will respond with these findings for this patient.

Advise the patient of your opinion about possible causes for his tiredness, and how you intend to proceed to make a firm diagnosis.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 069 can be found on page 374

Condition 070 Recent haematemesis in a 50-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are an intern at the hospital Emergency Department. This 50-year-old patient has presented having had a haematemesis of about 500 ml_ of fresh blood two hours ago, accompanied by a transient feeling of light headedness and sweating. The patient has given you a past history of a previous admission six months ago with a similar episode of haematemesis which settled spontaneously. An endoscopy was done and the patient was told there were dilated veins at the lower end of the gullet and was advised not to drink alcohol. The patient tells you that he has been trying to give up alcohol with limited success. On the basis of the history you have just finished taking, and his prior episode, you believe that the patient may have had a haematemesis from oesophageal varices with portal hypertension and chronic liver disease as the explanation for the current problem YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Perform a relevant and focused physical examination of the patient.

Explain your actions and what you are looking for to the examiner.

Describe your findings as you proceed.

You are not required to take any further history. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 070 can be found on page 377


071-072 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 071 Anaemia in a 28-year-old pregnant woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This 28-year-old pregnant woman, who is attending a general practice in which you work, has just been found to have a haemoglobin level of 80 g/L when tested at 26 weeks of gestation. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take any further relevant history you require. • Ask the examiner about relevant findings likely to be evident on general and obstetric examination. • Advise the patient of the tests required to define the most likely diagnosis and the subsequent management you would advise. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 071 can be found on page 380

Condition 072 Acute vertigo in a 50-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a primary care facility attached to a teaching hospital. This 50-year-old man is consulting you about intense dizziness. He is a previous patient who is overweight, and is on medications for control of hypertension and hyperlipidaemia. He appears unwell and distressed, with a slight drooping of the left eyelid. His wife drove him to the hospital. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a focused and relevant history. • The observing examiner will then give you the significant findings on physical examination. • Discuss your diagnosis and management plan with the examiner. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 072 can be found on page 383



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 073 Urinary frequency in a 60-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a 60-year-old man. He has attended the practice infrequently in the past. Today he is consulting you about urinary symptoms. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take a focused history with regard to the presenting symptoms.

Give the examiner a summary of the patient's presenting history with the most likely diagnosis.

Ask the examiner what aspects of physical examination are most likely to confirm this diagnosis and any initial office tests you would perform. The examiner will respond accordingly.

Tell the patient your diagnostic conclusions, what investigations are indicated and the reasons for these.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 073 can be found on page 394


2-D The General Consultation

2-D The General Consultation Performance Guidelines MCAT 065-073 65

Acute chest pain in a 60-year-old man


Palpitations and dizziness in a 50-year-old man


Muscle weakness and urinary symptoms in a 60-year-old man


Aches and pains in a 62-year-old man


Lack of energy in a 56-year-old suntanned man


Recent haematemesis in a 50-year-old man


Anaemia in a 28-year-old pregnant woman


Acute vertigo in a 50-year-old man


Urinary frequency in a 60-year-old man


065 Performance Guidelines

Condition 065 Acute chest pain in a 60-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to take a medical history in an older male patient presenting to the Emergency Department with chest pain of two hours duration. The candidate needs to be aware of the potential seriousness of the situation, the importance of taking a focused history to distinguish between cardiac and non-cardiac sources of chest pain, whilst being aware of the patient's discomfort and the need to take steps to relieve this. As in clinical practice, the early performance of an ECG and its correct interpretation is a key step in the assessment of this patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You have acute and worsening chest pain. You are 60 years of age. Opening statement

'I have a very bad tightness in my chest.' Characterisation of symptom: Site:

central, retrosternal, radiating to lower jaw.

Severity: Time course:

severe 8/10


came on two hours ago, steadily getting worse recent angina for two months; this pain started when playing third set of tennis

Aggravating factors:

none, no association with respiration

Relieving factors:

anginine, oxygen when given in Emergency Department

Associated symptoms:

sweating, nausea, breathlessness

Other health problems:

Systems review:

Past history: Drugs:

overweight, diabetes (5 years); hypertension (3 years): high cholesterol (3 years); pain in left leg on walking 500 metres (1 year). central chest pain when walking on cold mornings for the past two months: short of breath on exertion and breathless at night (three days); tiredness (two days). No epigastric pain, oesophageal reflux or dysphagia. Recent black bowel motions (five days). If no questions about your bowels, volunteer this information. Myocardial infarct three years ago For blood pressure (enalapril/hydrochlorothiazide); diabetes (metformin); aspirin; lipid-lowering agents

Habits: Family History:


Smoker until three years ago; alcohol intake 1 glass wine per day. Nil relevant.

065 Performance Guidelines

The examiner will provide physical examination findings to the candidate as follows: He is an overweight man of stated age who is in acute distress with pain and who is anxious and sweating. Blood pressure is 150/96 mmHg, pulse rate 96/min and regular. Heart sounds dual rhythm, no murmur. There are no signs of heart failure. Examination otherwise noncontributory

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Approach to patient The candidate is expected to demonstrate professionalism, empathy and to seek relief of the patient's discomfort with use of oxygen whilst taking the history. Awareness of the potential seriousness of the situation as the history evolves still requires the candidate to be calm, confident and reassuring.

History-taking skills The candidate is expected to fully characterise the chest discomfort, its time course, the context and associated symptoms. This needs to be done in a sensitive and focused way. using a mixture of open-ended and direct questioning. The cardiovascular risk factors must be determined, including the past history of myocardial infarction. The occurrence of this pain in the context of recent chest pain on exertion and breathlessness needs to be defined. If the history of recent 'black bowel motions' is not obtained by the candidate, the patient has been asked to bring this to the candidate's attention.

What should the doctor be thinking? Meeting the patient:

an overweight, anxious-looking, sweaty older man with chest pain: urgent assessment needed: focus on key questions relating to possibility of ischaemic heart disease.

The presenting problem:

fits pattern of acute myocardial infarction.

Check out his medication list:

indicates he is diabetic, hypertensive, high

Other cardiovascular risk factors:

previous acute myocardial infarction; claudication:

Other medical problems:

Type 2 diabetes; hypertension; central obesity;

Physical examination:

fits pattern of acute myocardial infarction

cholesterol. smoker. hypercholesterolaemia; probable melaena.

Treatment starts immediately:

This is a medical emergency requiring management by an expert team (what is the candidate's role in the team?); commence oxygen therapy, aspirin, glyceryl trinitrate and morphine; monitor pulse, blood pressure. ECG; assess for thrombolytic therapy.


065 Performance Guidelines

Ability to provide a concise clinical summary

This should be along the following lines and reflect the manner in which a junior doctor would describe the key features of the history to a registrar or consultant. The patient is an overweight, anxious looking, sweaty 60-year-old man with chest pain described as 'a very bad tightness', 8/10 severity, in the central, retrosternal region, radiating to the lower jaw but not to the arms. The pain came on when playing tennis and has been increasing steadily over the past 2 hours, associated with shortness of breath, sweating and partly relieved by anginine and oxygen. In addition he has had exertional chest pain over the past 2 months and shortness of breath, orthopnoea and tiredness over the past few days. A concerning symptom is his 5 day history of passing black bowel motions, which is suggestive of gastrointestinal blood loss. He is at very high risk of acute coronary ischaemia, having had a prior myocardial infarct, and with risk factors of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol. EC G findings need to be checked and anaemia considered as a precipitating factor. Diagnosis The most likely diagnosis is acute myocardial infarction. The key features that suggest this diagnosis are the characteristics of the chest discomfort in a patient with significant risk factors and prior myocardial infarction. Interpretation of ECG The ECG shows the following features: •

Sinus rhythm, rate 96/min.

There are features of acute inferior myocardial infarction shown by the Q waves in leads II, III, AVF and ST segment elevation in these leads as well.

CONDITION 065. FIGURE 2. ECG of patient

Tests: confirm acute myocardial infarction; assess anaemia


065 Performance Guidelines

KEY ISSUES • Approach to patient — sensitivity to the patient's discomfort and a calm and professional manner. • The ability to take an appropriate and focused medical history showing an awareness of the likely causes of chest pain and the main characteristics that distinguish cardiac and noncardiac sources of chest pain. The candidate needs to show an appreciation of cardiovascular risk factors, and an efficient ability to characterise associated symptoms and to define the context in which the symptom of chest pain has arisen. • Commentary to examiner — a succinct summary which brings together the key features of the presenting complaint, the context in which it has arisen, the associated symptoms and the cardiovascular risk factors. The candidate should identify the potential significance of the history of melaena. • Diagnosis/Differential diagnosis — the candidate must consider the diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction and why noncardiac causes of the chest pain are less likely. • Interpretation of investigation — the most important findings on the 12-lead ECG must be defined: sinus rhythm, acute inferior myocardial infarction. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to consider the diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction on the history. • Failure to define the main cardiovascular risk factors — prior myocardial infarction. Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia, smoking. • Failure to correctly interpret the ECG features of myocardial infarction. COMMENTARY 1 2

The patient's presentation is highly suggestive of an acute myocardial infarction. Cardiovascular risk assessment

A prior history of a cardiovascular event is the most important pointer towards a recurrent event. Type 2 diabetes mellitus is associated with a 10-fold increased risk of acute myocardial ischaemia. For hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia and a history of smoking, the risk is also significantly increased. 3 .4,5,6,7

1 Management ot unstable angina guidelines, 2 Therapeutic Guidelines Cardiovascular Version 4 2003 3 Grundy SM, Pasternak R, Greenland P, Smith S, Fuster V. Assessment of cardiovascular risk by use of multiple-risk-factor assessment equations. Ci rcul ati o n 1999, 100:1481-92. 4 MRC/BHF Heart Protection Study of cholesterol lowering with simvastatin in 20,536 high-risk individuals: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2002,360:7-22 5 Genuth S, Eastman R. Kahn R. Klein R, Lachin J, Lebovitz H, et al. Implications of the United Kingdom prospective diabetes study. Di a be tes C ar e 2003, 26 Suppl 1 : S28-32. 6 Neal B, MacMahon S. Chapman N. Effects of ACE inhibitors, calcium antagonists, and other blood-pressure-lowering drugs: results of prospectively designed overviews of randomised trials. Blood Pressure Lowering Treatment Trialists' Collaboration. L anc et 2000. 356: 1955-64. 7 National















065 Performance Guidelines

Acute coronary ischaemia syndromes All the acute coronary syndromes share the underlying pathology of an atherosclerotic plaque which becomes active acutely with rupture of the plaque with resultant platelet adhesion, thrombosis, vasoconstriction and inflammation. The exact syndrome depends on the extent of thrombosis, the degree of distal embolisation of platelet thrombi and the resultant myocardial necrosis. When the thrombus that occurs on a ruptured plaque completely occludes the coronary artery, the result is severe transmural myocardial ischaemia with ST elevation on the ECG. This may cause sudden death from ventricular fibrillation. If the coronary occlusion is not relieved, myocardial infarction develops progressively over the next 6-12 hours. This is often associated with evolution of evidence of transmural myocardial infarction on the ECG as shown by the development of Q waves. The acute coronary syndromes are differentiated on the basis of extent and duration of chest pain, ECG changes and biochemical markers. They are divided into two syndromes: (1) associated with ST elevation on the ECG (ST elevation myocardial infarction, STEMI) and (2) those without ST elevation (non-ST elevation myocardial infarction, NSTEMI) associated with either ST depression, T-wave inversion or no changes on the ECG. NSTEMI is differentiated from unstable angina on the basis of biochemical evidence of myocardial necrosis (elevated troponin level). The following figures give examples of different patterns of myocardial infarction:

CONDITION 065. FIGURE 3. Acute anterolateral myocardial infarction Features indicating acute anterolateral infarction are: •

ST elevation in leads I, aVL, V2-V6; and

Q waves in aVL, V2, V3 and loss of R waves across chest leads.


065 Performance Guidelines

CONDITION 065. FIGURE 4. Acute inferior myocardial infarction

Features of acute inferior myocardial ischaemia/infarction are: • ST segment elevation in II, III, and aVL; and • The slow rate is also common in this condition.

CONDITION 066. FIGURE 5. Acute posterior-inferior myocardial infarction Features of posterior-inferior myocardial infarction are: • Q wave and ST elevation in inferior leads (II, III, aVF); and • the prominent R waves in V1 (labelled C1) and Q waves with ST elevation in V5, V6 indicate postero-lateral infarction.


Central chest discomfort is a common presentation of cardiac disease, but it may also be due to disease of the gastrointestinal tract, lungs or a musculoskeletal disorder. The features of the chest discomfort/pain, the context in which the symptom occurs, the associated symptoms and the patient's predisposition to cardiac versus noncardiac disease based on an assessment of cardiovascular risk factors, must all be considered. In taking a history relating to chest discomfort, a number of key descriptors needs to be defined to determine if its origin is cardiac ischaemia. A common sequence of enquiry would be as follows: •

'What is the discomfort like? Describe it in your own words. '

'How severe is it — e.g. a score out of 10?'

'Show me where you feel it? Does it go anywhere else — the abdomen, the back, the neck, the jaw, the arms?'

'When did it start? How has it progressed? How long has it been present or how long did it

'Does anything make the discomfort worse? Does anything make it better?'

last?' •

'Do you have any other symptoms? Shortness of breath? Dizziness? Palpitations? Sweating? Nausea or vomiting?'

In addition there are a number of questions that will be used in trying to determine if there is a non-cardiac cause: • • • •

'Do you get acid indigestion or reflux?' 'Was the onset of the discomfort related to a meal?' 'Does it hurt to take a deep breath?' 'Is the chest sore to touch?'


066 Performance Guidelines

Condition 066 Palpitations and dizziness in a 50-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to take a medical history in a patient presenting to the Emergency Department with episodes of palpitations and dizziness. Careful history-taking is essential in assessing such patients. The candidate needs to define the attacks, the nature of the arrhythmia (rate, rhythm, onset, offset, context) and the close association between the two symptoms. Also critical to the assessment is an understanding of potential risk factors and précipitants of cardiac arrhythmias. Underpinning the history-taking, the candidate needs to have knowledge of the causes of cardiac arrhythmias and the manifestations of different types of arrhythmias. Obtaining an ECG during an attack and its correct interpretation is a key step in the assessment of this patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are lying on a trolley in the Emergency Department. You were brought to hospital by ambulance. Opening statement 'I've been getting attacks of palpitations and dizziness over the past three days. ' In response to specific questioning, provide the following information: • History of presenting complaints — The palpitations and dizziness seem to come on together. You have them now. • Palpitations - These are described as a fast beating of the heart going into the neck. If asked to tap out the rhythm on the desk, give a rapid regular beat of about 150/min. There have been four attacks over the past three days, each lasting for about two hours. The attacks come on suddenly and stop suddenly. Three of the episodes occurred after the evening meal and the fourth whilst driving. Nothing you have tried seems to stop the attack. There is no associated chest pain but you are mildly short of breath and sweat during and for a short time after each attack. There is no flushing, headache or nausea. • Dizziness — This is a light-headed, near fainting experience which comes on within a minute of the palpitations and lasts for the duration of the attack. You feel you have to lie down. • Systems review There is no history of heat intolerance, nervousness or tremor. You are overweight with no recent change in weight. Bowel function is normal. • Habits — You smoke 20 cigarettes per day; drink 4 or 5 glasses of wine with the evening meal and 5 cups of coffee per day. You are on no medications. • Social history — You have a sedentary solitary lifestyle. Your job is stressful as a company secretary and the company you work for is restructuring. • Family history — No significant family history of heart disease or cardiac arrhythmias.


066 Performance Guidelines


Approach to patient

The candidate is expected to demonstrate professionalism, empathy and good communication skills. •

History-taking skills

The candidate is required to carefully define the two symptoms and how they relate. The specific features of the palpitations, the context in which they occur, the potential risk factors and précipitants are all important elements of this patient's history. In addition the candidate is expected to explore possible underlying cardiac diseases, in this case particularly the possibilities of hypertensive heart disease or alcoholic cardiomyopathy. •

Ability to provide a concise clinical summary

This should be along the following lines and reflect the manner in which a junior doctor would describe the key features of the history to a registrar or consultant. 'The patient is a 50-year-old company secretary who presents with his fourth attack of palpitations and dizziness over the past 3 days. Three of the attacks have occurred in the evenings after his meal and one whilst driving. Each attack lasts approximately 2 hours, they come on suddenly and stop suddenly and the dizziness, which he describes as a near-fainting experience, always accompanies the palpitations. The nature of the palpitations is that they appear to be rapid, approximately 150/min and regular. He is currently experiencing an attack. The attacks are also associated with shortness of breath and sweating, but no chest pain. Considering possible underlying causes for his attacks, he has a history of high blood pressure but no known cardiac disease. He has a high alcohol intake and has recently been under stress at work. He is also at risk of ischaemic heart disease because of his smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle. There is no evidence on history to suggest thyrotoxicosis. ' The examiner will provide physical examination findings to the candidate as follows: Physical examination He is an overweight, anxious man in some distress while sitting or lying on a couch. Pulse is 150/min and regular, blood pressure is 150/96 mmHg. Heart sounds show dual rhythm with no bruits and are synchronous with the pulse. There are no signs of cardiac failure. Examination otherwise is noncontnbutory •


The most likely diagnosis is paroxysmal atrial arrhythmia, probably atrial flutter. The key features that suggest this diagnosis are the sudden onset and offset, the rapid, regular palpitations and the rate. The potential causes for this arrhythmia are hypertensive heart disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, ischaemic heart disease or occult thyrotoxicosis. The differential diagnosis includes atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia, ventricular tachycardia.


066 Performance Guidelines

• Interpretation of ECG The ECG shows the following features:

CONDITION 066. FIGURE 2. Atrial flutter with variable block

KEY ISSUES • Approach to patient — Sensitivity to the patient's discomfort and a calm and professional manner. • History — The ability to take an appropriate and focused medical history with careful definition of the symptom characteristics and showing an awareness of the likely causes and précipitants of cardiac arrhythmias. • Commentary to examiner — This needs to be a succinct summary which brings together the key features of the presenting complaint, the context in which it has arisen, the associated symptoms and the arrhythmia risk factors. • Diagnosis/Differential diagnosis — The candidate must consider the diagnosis of atrial arrhythmia and the potential contributions of hypertension and alcohol. • Interpretation of investigation — The most important findings on the 12-lead ECG must be defined: atrial flutter with variable block. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to consider the diagnosis of atrial tachyarrhythmia on the history. • Failure to correctly interpret the ECG features of atrial flutter.


066 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY1 2 3 Palpitations are the symptom of an abnormal awareness of heart rate. They may be due to a change in the rate, rhythm or force of the heartbeats or some combination of these. It is important to ask the patient to tap out with a finger what is noticed when the palpitations arise. Anxious patients may be aware of their normal heartbeat. Isolated forceful beats ('thump in the chest') are usually caused by ectopic beats. Patients may also report their heart 'misses a beat', usually due either to a compensatory pause after a ventricular ectopic beat or a nonforceful ectopic beat. Awareness of a fast heart rate usually occurs when this is of recent origin. It is important to determine whether this is regular or irregular and whether there are any associated symptoms. The development of symptoms in a patient with an atrial arrhythmia will depend on the rate, the rhythm, underlying cardiac disease and patient characteristics. A common problem encountered in older patients with hypertensive heart disease who develop atrial fibrillation is that the presence of a poorly compliant (stiff) left ventricle renders them quite intolerant to this arrhythmia, where there is loss of the contribution of atrial contraction to ventricular filling, leading to left heart failure. Atrial flutter usually presents with 2:1 atrioventricular block and a regular ventricular rate of 150/min. It is often misdiagnosed as supraventricular tachycardia. Rarely conduction occurs 1:1, giving a ventricular rate of 300/min and severe symptoms. Much more frequently greater degrees of AV block are present giving ventricular rates of 100 (3:1 block) or 75 (4:1 block). Patients may be asymptomatic except when the rate changes (e.g. from 4:1 to 2:1 block). An example of atrial flutter with 4:1 block is seen in the figure below (Figure 3). Note the characteristic saw-tooth appearance of the P waves.

CONDITION 066. FIGURE 3. Atrial flutter with 4:1 block In untreated patients with a normal AV node, atrial fibrillation (AF) usually presents with an irregular ventricular rate of 160-180/min. Older patients with impaired AV conduction can often present with lower rates. Apart from the first episode, where the natural history is not clear, atrial fibrillation tends to fall into one of three clinical patterns (the so-called 'three Ps'). Patients may progress from one to another. These patterns are: •

Paroxysmal AF (episodes which come on suddenly and usually revert spontaneously within 48 hours);

Persistent AF (episodes persist for days or weeks unless active measures are taken to revert to sinus rhythm); and

1 2

Therapeutic Guidelines Cardiovascular Version 4 2003. Wyse DG. Waldo AL, DiMarco JP, Domanski MJ, Rosenberg Y. Schron EB, et al. A comparison of rate control and rhythm control in patients with atrial fibrillation. N ew E n g l and J o ur n al o f Me di c i ne 2002, 347: 1825-33.


Hankey GJ. Non-valvular arial fibrillation and stroke prevention. M e di cal Jo urn al o f Austr al i a 2001. 274: 234-39.


066 Performance Guidelines

• Permanent AF (inability to sustain sinus rhythm for any length of time or decision made not to try to revert the rhythm). Patients with persistent and paroxysmal AF have at least the same risk of thromboembolism as patients with permanent AF. An example of atrial fibrillation is illustrated (Figure 4). Note that the rhythm is irregularly irregular and that no P waves can be seen.

CONDITION 066. FIGURE 4. Atrial fibrillation

It is important to identify and manage underlying causes of atrial tachyarrhythmias (for example, hypertension, thyrotoxicosis, heart failure, mitral valve disease, atrial septal defect). Treatment of these two common arrhythmias needs to be considered under two headings: treatment of the arrhythmia itself and prophylaxis against thromboembolic complications. The pharmacotherapeutic approaches to atrial fibrillation and flutter are very similar, however atrial flutter commonly responds very easily to a low energy direct current shock or to pace cardioversion and is often relatively insensitive to antiarrhythmic drugs.


067 Performance Guidelines

Condition 067 Muscle weakness and urinary symptoms in a 60-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to take a focused history regarding muscle weakness, symptoms of prostatism and the patient's concerns about their cause, while also being aware of the possibility of an adverse drug reaction. The candidate should know the essential components of a selective physical examination and essential investigations to confirm the diagnosis and exclude other conditions. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows You are a 54-year-old newsagent. Opening statement

'I'm feeling weak and tired which is not like me. I'm also ha ving trouble with my waterworks. ' Follow this, if not interrupted by direct questioning, by telling the doctor that: •

Symptoms have only developed over the last six months or so.

You have felt tired and have noted a feeling of weakness in your muscles over the past few weeks. This is not constant and not severe. All your muscles seem to be affected. It gets worse towards the end of the day and you have attributed this to tiredness (long working hours) and increasing age. You have also had some cramps in your calf muscles.

Over the last six months you have also felt an increasingly strong urge to pass urine when standing up after sitting (e.g. on getting out of your car or after watching TV for an hour or so). You also have had to pass urine more frequently at night. Some nights you have to get up at three or four times and then have trouble in starting the passage of urine.

In response to appropriate questioning: •

The stream of urine is poor and you find it hard to finish, with annoying dribbling. So far you have not lost control or soiled yourself. Passing urine is not painful. The urine does not smell abnormally. Sexual intercourse and ejaculation are not affected except for reduced frequency in recent years. You have learnt to empty your bladder before going out or sitting for long periods. You think that reduction in the amount of beer you drink after work from 4 to 5 glasses to 1 or 2 has helped.

You have always kept in good health.

Other body systems are normal. In particular, no cardiovascular or other neurological symptoms and no related symptoms such as tremor or stiffness. No weight loss.

Other significant information: •

You commenced treatment for 'mild blood pressure' about eight months ago. but from a different doctor. Your medication is hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg (Dithiazide®) each morning. You are on your feet all day in the newsagency. You still play tennis on Sunday but the power in your game has 'gone'. No marital, family or financial problems. If asked about your past history, family history, habits or social history, respond as for yourself.


067 Performance Guidelines

• You are very puzzled by your muscle weakness. You are also concerned about the urinary symptoms and worried that you could have prostate cancer. You have also thought of the possibility that your symptoms might be caused by your medication. • The doctor may not seek all this information. If asked other questions, respond as for yourself. • After obtaining the results of the investigations from the examiner, the candidate will briefly explain the cause of your symptoms to you. Do not question the doctor, simply accept what is said. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Approach to patient ~ Use of appropriate communication skills to define the salient points of the history. • History ~ Identification of muscular weakness, cramps, urinary frequency, urgency and dribbling and medication (for hypertension — use of thiazide diuretic should be elicited). Patient concern about cancer should be recognised. • Physical examination ~ The candidate should ask the examiner for certain findings based on diagnostic possibilities suggested by the history. Results will be provided for specific requests as follows: CONDITION 067. TABLE 1. Examination findings

General appearance Pallor

looks well absent


72/min regular

Blood pressure

lying 154/92 mmHg and standing 148/90 mmHg





Neurological examination (limited) power of limbs

possibly slightly reduced







PR —the prostate is enlarged. Features which should be sought:

degree of enlargement both lobes consistency

moderate yes firm but not hard

tenderness surface

no smooth



Urine office testing — normal on chemical testing


067 Performance Guidelines •

The following investigations should be suggested: ~ Serum potassium ~ Haemoglobin and full blood examination ~ Prostate specific antigen (PSA) ~ Microscopy and culture of midstream urine

Explanation to patient ~ How low potassium due to use of a diuretic tablet for treatment of elevated blood pressure could be the cause of the weakness. Effects are fully reversible. ~ Enlargement of prostate is the cause of the urinary symptoms. Reassure that malignancy is very unlikely but that referral to a urologist is advisable for probable operative treatment, which will include examination of tissue for cancer cells. ~ Cease Dithiazide® and perform followup checks of blood pressure for further management. KEY ISSUES •

History-taking to identify weakness, prostatism, fear of cancer, current medication.

Examination for pallor, pulse and BP, heart, abdomen, neurological (limited), rectal examination.

Investigations including serum electrolytes and creatinine, PSA, FBE, ECG. urine microscopy and culture and cytology.

Explanation to patient that the likely diagnosis is hypokalaemia (reversible) as the cause of muscle weakness together with benign prostatomegaly. Reassure the patient regarding cancer.


Failure to do rectal examination.

Failure to suggest appropriate investigations.

COMMENTARY Muscle weakness and fatigue are common symptoms with multiple aetiologies. In this scenario the first dominant cue is the association of tiredness and weakness with urinary symptoms. These latter symptoms and the signs of benign prostatic enlargement suggest bladderneck obstruction requiring further investigation and referral. The other dominant cue is picked up by systems review giving the information that the patient has been on a thiazide diuretic for eight months, and his symptoms of musde weakness began after starting this medication. The diuretic polyuria may have brought to light previously nonsymptomatic prostatic pathology, and caused potassium loss. Even so-called potassium-sparing thiazide diuretics can be associated with potassium depletion, which could be contributing to his muscle weakness and muscle cramps through hypokalaemia. Investigations of serum electrolytes (particularly potassium levels), renal function tests, urine cytology and culture, and full blood examination would be mandatory in a patient of this age with symptoms as described.


068 Performance Guidelines

Condition 068 Aches and pains in a 62-year-old man AIMS OF STATION

To assess the candidate's knowledge of the clinical presentation of polymyalgia rheumatica and the way in which this diagnosis is confirmed or excluded. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a retired office worker and will be advised by the candidate of the diagnostic and management plans. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Physical examination findings to be sought: • Essential features of focused physical examination to be given to candidate on request by the examiner. ~ Temperature ~ Pulse ~ Blood pressure

37 °C, normal 70/min regular 140/80 mmHg

~ Muscle groups of neck, trunk, upper and lower limbs should be examined. - Active movement of neck, shoulder and trunk muscles causes discomfort. - Normal power and tone and coordination of movements. - Examination of joints, particularly hands, shoulders, neck, sacroiliac joints and hips. These show no abnormalities and a full range of movement. ~ Examination of lymph nodes, abdomen, and respiratory systems is expected to exclude any medical conditions that could possibly give rise to this constellation of symptoms (e.g. lymphoma, carcinoma) — normal findings. ~ Rectal examination to check prostate — normal. After providing results of physicai examination, the examiner will ask the candidate • 'What is your provisional diagnosis and differential diagnosis?' • 'What further tests will you advise?' • 'Please now give to the patient your diagnostic and management plans. ' Diagnosis/Differential diagnosis Polymyalgia rheumatica should be suspected from the history. The examination does not reveal any specific diagnostic features but erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) would be expected to confirm the diagnosis. Underlying malignancy should be a consideration.


Management The candidate is expected to indicate to the patient that if the blood tests confirm the suspected diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica, then the patient is likely to have a good response to a limited course of prednisolone which may need to be given for up to two years, but that any such treatment, how it is given and monitored, must await the results of the tests. The patient should be advised to report any severe headaches, visual disturbance or pain in the jaw when eating, since giant cell arteritis can occur together with polymyalgia rheumatica. KEY ISSUES •

Focused physical examination which must include musculoskeletal system plus rectal examination.

Investigate with ESR and/or CRP.

Polymyalgia rheumatica as the most likely diagnosis.


Failure to request ESR and/or C-reactive protein.

COMMENTARY Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis are linked conditions of unknown aetiology. The incidence varies with ethnicity and these conditions are more common in people of Northern European descent. Polymyalgia rheumatica commonly presents in middle aged or elderly patients with diffuse symptoms of muscle pain particularly in the neck, shoulders and hip girdles. The myalgia is symmetric and often begins in the shoulders. Muscle strength is normal but can appear diminished because of pain. There is often a disparity between the severity of myalgia reported and the physical findings. There are often constitutional symptoms including weight loss, malaise and depression; spiking fevers are rare. The diagnosis in this instance would be confirmed by investigations, specifically ESR and C-reactive protein, and full blood examination (FBE). •

Treatment of polymyalgia rheumatica is with oral prednisolone, initially in high dosage.

Differential diagnosis to be considered would include: ~ Chronic fatigue syndrome: This condition is a 'medically unexplained condition'. It is usually seen in younger patients, may follow a viral infection and the dominant feature is incapacitating fatigue with other medical symptoms of subjective memory impairment, headaches, poor sleep, generalised muscle pains, postexertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours, lymph node tenderness. It is best viewed as a symptom complex resulting from interaction of physical and psychosocial factors. The ESR, CRP and FBE tests are normal. ~ 'Fibromyalgia': Another of the 'medically unexplained' conditions, characterised by aching pains across the shoulders and upper back, skin tenderness, poor sleep pattern and often additional constitutional symptoms. ESR, CRP and FBE are normal.


068 Performance Guidelines

~ Polymyositis: This is an uncommon inflammatory muscle disorder that may be associated with an underlying neoplasm in older patients. The most frequently encountered mode of presentation is the onset of painful muscles and proximal muscle weakness, often commencing in the neck, shoulder girdle and proximal limb muscles, associated with some atrophy with disproportionate weakness. ESR. CRP and FBE abnormalities may be indistinguishable from polymyalgia rheumatica but elevated creatine kinase and abnormal autoantibodies are characteristic. A positive muscle biopsy is diagnostic. ~ Underlying malignancy: prostate, breast in females, multiple myeloma, lung cancer.


069 Performance Guidelines

Condition 069 Lack of energy in a 56-year-old suntanned man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose the cause of tiredness and lack of energy in a 56-year-old man. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 56-year-old industrial chemist. Opening statement 'I have felt very tired lately and for no apparent reason. ' Story in Detail Without prompting — you have felt tired and lethargic since you retired about a year ago You attributed this to a lack of mental stimulation from what was a demanding job. About three or four months ago you also noticed aches and pains in your joints which have persisted. You also realised that you had lost some weight which is why you decided to see the doctor. You have just returned from holidays in Queensland. You have noticed that you have developed a suntan even though you don't spend much time outdoors, and did not do much swimming on holiday. In response to specific questions respond as indicated: •

The tiredness is constant and not improved by resting or sleeping (you sleep well).

The aches and pains are mainly in your shoulders, hips and knees. There is some tenderness and swelling in wrists and elbows and pains in the shoulders. The muscles are not sore.

The weight loss is 3-4 kg.

You have also noticed palpitations at times — mainly when going off to sleep, when your heart seems to speed up and miss beats for a few minutes at a time.

Your sexual activity has been less than before; you thought due to your age.

You don't feel depressed

In response to all other questions deny any other symptoms.

You do not smoke or drink any alcohol.

There have been no significant past illnesses.

There is no significant family history but you were adopted and know little about your parents.


069 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Approach to patient — The candidate should show skill in: ~ listening and facilitation of presenting symptoms; and ~ using direct and indirect questioning in a logical, relevant and non-threatening manner. • History-taking — The candidate is expected to take a comprehensive history in a patient presenting with the symptoms of tiredness, arthralgia and weight loss. The additional symptoms of palpitations, change in skin colour and loss of libido, in the absence of other symptoms or significant past history, indicate there is a multisystem disorder. However most candidates will require the examination findings to assist in the diagnostic formulation. • Examination requests should be made for specific diagnostic features. The examiner will respond to a request with the following specifics: ~ Distribution of hyperpigmentation — generalised over body but not mucos ~ Joints

swelling and some tenderness of wrists, elbows and knees. Limitation of range of movements and tenderness of the shoulder joints

~ Pulse

irregular, atrial fibrillation, confirmed by office ECG

~ Blood pressure

140/90 mmHg

~ Heart

no additional findings, no signs of cardiac failure.

~ Abdomen

5 cm enlargement of liver — firm nontender liver edge

~ Genitalia

testes softer and smaller than usual for age

~ Urine

positive for glucose. Diabetes confirmed by random blood sugar of 12 mmol/L

• Diagnosis/Differential diagnosis — The patient presents the classical clinical picture of haemochromatosis ~ Other causes of increased pigmentation — Addison disease, Cushing disease, hyperthyroidism, cirrhosis, porphyria, chronic renal failure, malnutrition/malabsorption, drugs causing photosensitivity (for example, psoralens, phenothiazines, certain antibiotics, amiodarone). • Choice of investigations — The candidate should indicate the need for: ~ full blood examination and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. ~ creatinine and electrolytes ~ serum iron studies (especially transferrin saturation) ~ liver function tests ~ test for gene for haemochromatosis (HFE) gene If the candidate suspects haemochromatosis the next steps in the confirmation of the diagnosis should be explained to the patient. Details of treatment are not required in this case. Specialist referral would be expected for further assessment and management. If the candidate does not recognise the significance of the constellation of symptoms and signs, their choice of investigations and/or referral will indicate the level of performance.


069 Performance Guidelines


History-taking — the candidate is expected to exhibit appropriate history-taking skills and obtain the key features of the illness given the patients initial presenting complaints of tiredness, joint pains and weight loss. This will require a systematic approach to history-taking and the multisystem nature of the complaints requires a comprehensive but concise history.

Choice and sequence of examination — examination of the joints and of the features of skin pigmentation is expected. The candidate should indicate the need to examine the pulse, cardiovascular system, abdomen and to look for evidence of endocrine dysfunction.

Diagnosis/Differential diagnosis — the condition of haemochromatosis may not be apparent to the candidate on the history and examination findings. However a consideration of the causes of the multisystem disease with skin pigmentation, arthritis, cardiac, liver, and endocrine systems disorder should be sensibly discussed.

Choice of investigations — these should be appropriate to the investigation of the multisystem disease.

CRITICAL ERROR - none defined COMMENTARY In primary haemochromatosis there is increased absorption of iron from a normal diet. Repeated blood transfusions can cause secondary haemochromatosis. The primary form is an autosomal recessive condition, known also as 'Bronze Diabetes'. The homozygous state is present in 1:150 in Australia with 1 in 10 carriers (1 in 300 blood donors have iron overload) and is more common in people of Celtic or Northern European background. Typical manifestations are bronze skin pigmentation, diabetes (60%), cardiomyopathy, liver damage and pituitary failure. Fatigue, arthralgia and abdominal pain are leading symptoms, while detection of atrial fibrillation, hepatomegaly, testicular atrophy and hyperglycaemia make a clinical diagnosis possible. The critical confirmatory investigations are iron studies — serum iron, total iron binding capacity, ferritin, transferrin and transferrin saturation, plus testing for the gene for haemochromatosis (HFE gene).


070 Performance Guidelines

Condition 070 Recent haematemesis in a 50-year-old man AlMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's clinical perspective in examining a patient presenting to the Emergency Department with an acute haematemesis. To check abilities to examine for evidence of chronic liver disease. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: The candidates have been told that you have vomited up a large quantity of blood two hours ago and they have been instructed to undertake a relevant physical examination. They are not expected to take a further history from you. They have just finished taking a history. On this occasion you vomited a large amount of fresh blood two hours ago — you think it might have been a pint or so (500 ml_). You felt temporarily faint and broke into a sweat. You have not vomited since. Your wife has driven you to hospital where the Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) has taken your history You are lying on the couch undressed to your underclothes and wearing a hospital gown. The HMO who has taken your history is about to examine you. You have given a past history of a previous admission six months ago with a similar episode of vomiting blood which settled spontaneously, and you were discharged after a few days. You had an endoscopy through the mouth and you were told you had dilated veins at the lower end of the oesophagus leading into the stomach. You were warned about the effects of continued drinking. You've been trying to give this up but you have had limited success. It is likely that the candidates will want to measure your blood pressure and feel the pulses in your arms. They will also examine your hands, face, chest and abdomen. In a patient with liver problems, the findings will be evident on examination, and will have been previously checked by the examiner. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Candidates should first look for evidence of haemodynamic compromise (looking for evidence of hypotension and postural drop, pulse, peripheral perfusion). Once candidates indicate they would take the blood pressure, they can be told that the BP is 110/70 mmHg and pulse 90/min. As the bleeding occurred only two hours ago, this assessment is particularly important. Candidates should indicate that they would do a rectal examination looking for a melaena stool, and will be informed there is a fresh melaena stool on the glove.


070 Performance Guidelines

After assessment of stable haemodynamic status as first priority, the candidate should: •

Put the patient at ease, correctly position him supine with appropriate exposure to examine the whole abdomen, groin, head and neck and upper limbs.

Make an appropriate examination looking for evidence of chronic liver disease (examination of hands — liver palms, leuconychia, spiders, clubbing), easy bruising, spider naevi elsewhere, gynaecomastia, parotid enlargement, oral cavity and tongue, ascites, portal hypertension (dilated veins and splenomegaly), testicular atrophy.

Examine for liver flap.

Palpate the abdomen adequately for hepatic and splenic enlargement.

Check for evidence of ascites, by palpation for shifting dullness or fluid thrill.

Percuss for evidence of liver and splenic enlargement.

Auscultate abdomen for venous hum, bruit, bowel sounds.

Provide a logical description concerning the examination.

Perform the examination in a logical sequence.


Performing a satisfactory physical examination pertinent to an episode of acute haematemesis in a patient in whom evidence of chronic liver disease should be sought

Accuracy of examination will be a key issue for the mark sheet when a real patient is involved.

Satisfactory commentary to examiner.


Failure to assess the haemodynamic state of the patient.

Failure to look for evidence of liver failure and portal hypertension.

COMMENTARY In this important and common emergency room setting there are three issues the doctor must focus on: • Checking the ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) of immediate resuscitation. •

Assessment of the cardiovascular state of the patient and provision of prompt resuscitation, if necessary.

Identification of the cause of the haemorrhage.

This patient has had a large haemorrhage and the airway couid be compromised. In this scenario the patient appears fully conscious and is able to give a detailed history, so it is unlikely that there is a major problem with the airway or breathing. Thus the physical examination must start with measurement of the blood pressure (lying and sitting, if necessary) and pulse, and a clinical evaluation of how well the periphery and vital tissues are perfused. Is the patient shocked, cold and clammy, with a shutdown peripheral circulation? If the patient is shocked, the physical examination must cease at this stage and the patient must be resuscitated.


070 Performance Guidelines

Provided the patient is stable, a methodical examination may be undertaken to look for the cause of the haemorrhage. Although the patient's past history has suggested that the cause is alcoholic liver disease, portal hypertension and bleeding oesophageal varices, this should not be assumed as many patients with known varices will be bleeding from another cause. The examination should look for: • signs associated with chronic liver disease: • signs of possible liver failure; • signs of portal hypertension; and • any other clues suggesting a different aetiology for the haemorrhage. Signs associated with chronic liver disease apart from hepatomegaly include nail changes (leukonychia), salivary gland enlargement, testicular atrophy, gynaecomastia and spider naevi. If the liver is failing, the patient may have ascites and encephalopathic changes. Encephalopathy may have a variety of presentations, ranging from minor mental impairment and flap, through to coma. Portal hypertension may be manifest by the signs of hypersplenism (purpuric haemorrhage), splenomegaly and collateral venous channels. The latter may be visible in the anterior abdominal wall as communications between the umbilical vein and the epigastric venous channels flowing back into the systemic circulation. Of more sinister import are the oesophageal mucosal collaterals that form between the portal and azygos systems through decompression along the left gastric (coronary) vein. Occasionally, the physical examination will reveal other signs that might be associated with haemorrhage, for example, the hereditary haemorrhagic telangiectasia associated with the Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome. Variations on this theme are also used, in which a real patient with liver disease is to be assessed after admission to the ward and institution of an intravenous drip while blood is being typed and cross-matched. The instructions will in that case state that the patient is now haemodynamically stable and the emphasis of the task is to assess the patient for evidence of chronic liver disease, which is expected to be present. The assessment now concentrates on the technique and accuracy of physical examination as key issues. In this emergency department scenario the emphasis is FIRSTLY on assessment of stable or unstable haemodynamic status in a patient with recent haematemesis.

CONDITION 070. FIGURES 1 AND 2. Abdominal distension — Ascites


071 Performance Guidelines

Condition 071 Anaemia in a 28-year-old pregnant woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to define the possible causes of anaemia in pregnancy and to arrange appropriate investigations and advise the patient concerning the diagnosis and treatment. The most likely diagnosis is iron deficiency anaemia due to the demands of three pregnancies in a short time interval, but other causes of anaemia including thalassaemia, and folic acid deficiency associated with a multiple pregnancy need to be excluded. Having made the appropriate diagnosis iron therapy should be prescribed. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will instruct the patient as follows: The list of responses below is likely to cover most of the questions you will be asked. List of appropriate answers to questions •

Previous obstetric history — you have had three pregnancies during the last four years. No postpartum haemorrhage.

You did not take iron tablets during these pregnancies: your haemoglobin was always greater than 100 g/L when previously tested.

You noted no excessive blood loss before or between pregnancies — periods have not been heavy. You have had no bleeding from the bowel, and there has been no suggestion of malaria or hookworm infestation; you have always lived in Southern Australia.

• • •

You had an ultrasound examination at 18 weeks of gestation, this showed a singleton pregnancy was present, and confirmed the period of gestation. Diet — you eat meat occasionally, you don't like green vegetables. No iron tablets have been taken during the pregnancy.

No vaginal bleeding has occurred during the pregnancy.

There is no family history of /^thalassaemia or of anaemia generally. You are Australian born as were your parents, and there is no Mediterranean heritage in the family

You have not had a full blood examination (FBE) done before in this pregnancy.

You have a supportive partner who assists at home.

Questions to ask if not already covered: •

'Why have I become anaemic?'

'Will my anaemia harm my baby?'

'Do I need a blood transfusion?'

'How quickly will my haemoglobin come up?'


071 Performance Guidelines

Examination findings to be given to the candidate from the examiner on request Apart from looking pale, general examination is normal. The uterus is enlarged to about 4 cm above the umbilicus and measures 26 cm above the pubic symphysis. Investigation results None has been recorded for this pregnancy other than the ultrasound.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Advice to patient (the candidate should convey the substance of what follows to the patient): • She needs an FBE to check on the form of anaemia which is present. • She requires assessment of her iron status — serum iron or ferritin levels should also be checked. • If the FBE suggests possible /Mhalassaemia minor, haemoglobin electropheresis will also be required. • Treatment with iron tablets should begin after taking blood for investigation (Ferro-Gradumet® or Fefol®). Two tablets should be taken a day; she should be warned about the possible effects of these in causing constipation and dark stools. There is no need for parenteral iron therapy at this time, or blood transfusion. • A satisfactory response to oral iron therapy should be able to be achieved well ahead of the time that delivery is likely. The haemoglobin should be checked again in two weeks, along with a reticulocyte count. If the haemoglobin does not increase satisfactorily, referral to a haematologist for advice concerning diagnosis and treatment would be appropriate. Providing the anaemia can be treated satisfactorily, there should be little effect on the pregnancy. In the absence of adequate treatment the placenta becomes larger, however the babies are usually smaller.

KEY ISSUES • Ability to evaluate appropriately a patient who has become anaemic during pregnancy. • Ability to commence treatment and arrange appropriate followup in such a patient.

CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to make a provisional diagnosis of probable iron-deficiency anaemia due to the demands of successive pregnancies. • Failure to administer oral iron therapy. • Recommending blood transfusion at this time.


071 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY This case illustrates a common problem of iron deficiency anaemia in a young woman who has had a number of pregnancies in a short period of time. This is the most common form of anaemia under these circumstances and whilst other less common forms of anaemia should be considered, it is important to commence treatment for simple iron deficiency anaemia whilst awaiting the results of investigations. It is also important to remember that blood transfusion is not indicated under these circumstances in mid-pregnancy. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: •

Failing to focus on other causes of anaemia when taking the history — failing to ask about menstrual loss, loss from other sites, and failing to consider the possibility of thalassaemia minor.

Failing to arrange appropriate blood tests which would include haemoglobin electrophoresis if the anaemia is hypochromic and microcytic without evidence of iron deficiency, and the assessment of serum iron or ferritin levels.


072 Performance Guidelines

Condition 072 Acute vertigo in a 50-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose an acute vascular 'stroke' presenting with vertigo. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Opening statement 'I feel so dizzy that I can hardly stand up. It's like being on a merry-go-round! ' Story in detail without prompting 'This morning just over an hour ago, I was having breakfast when I felt a pain in the left side of my face (indicate the left side). Then I started to feel numb up and down the other side of my body (indicate the right side) and I became so dizzy that I couldn't even sit up. let alone stand up. ' 'My head felt as if it was exploding, and my speech was funny and slurred. ' 'My wife got me into bed and then I felt sick and vomited. I had to lie very still or I wanted to vomit. It was like being very seasick. So I rested while she rang you. If I turn my head to the side the dizziness gets worse. I found it hard to get in and out of the car. I keep falling this way (indicate to the left). Am I having a stroke?' In answer to the doctor's questions • You are feeling a little better now but would prefer to lie down. • Everything seems to be moving and spinning around you. • The pain has gone from your face but the cheek (left) now feels numb too. • You still have a feeling of numbness down your right side, involving the trunk and limbs. • No persisting headache or neck stiffness. • No hoarseness (if asked about swallowing, you did feel that it was difficult to swallow your saliva, but that feeling has now gone. You suspect that your taste has been affected). • No previous episodes. No more vomiting. Your speech has now returned to normal after initial slurring Review of general health Apart from being overweight and having treatment for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, you feel you have been in good health. Your blood pressure has been variable. Lipid levels stable. Appear apprehensive and agitated. Hold firmly onto the desk or chair to keep yourself steady. Lean towards your left side. Although you have just suffered a cerebral event your ability to give a satisfactory history is not impaired. Give a full account of your symptoms unless interrupted by the doctor taking control of the interview at too early a stage. You are very concerned that you are having a stroke.


072 Performance Guidelines

Social history You are married. You and your wife live in your own home. You do not smoke. You work as a postman. You drink alcohol only occasionally. Family history •

Mother died from stroke at 65 years.

Father was diabetic, died from heart attack aged 59 years.

Major continuing health problems are: ~ Hypertension for about 10 years. ~ Hyperlipidaemia identified about 6 years ago. ~ Both conditions have been well controlled.

Current medication Norvasc® (amlodipine) 10 mg once daily (calcium channel blocker). Avapro® (irbesartan) 150 mg once daily (angiotensin II receptor antagonist). Lipitor® (atorvastatin) 10 mg once daily (CoA reductase inhibitor). After the history is finished, the examiner will hand to the candidate a separate sheet giving an outline of physical findings as set out in the box below. Physical Findings Cardiovascular examination is normal — blood pressure 145/85 mmHg, pulse 80/min and regular. The main findings on neurologic examination are that he has an ataxic gait and postural unsteadiness without significant change on closing eyes. He has some incoordination of movement of the left arm and hand, but no motor weakness or other motor signs are present. Cranial Nerves •

Eye movements and pupil reactions are normal as is fundoscopy.

Nystagmus to the left on looking to the left is present.

A left Horner syndrome is present (ptosis, miosis of pupil).

Pain sensation to pinprick is lost on the left side of the face and the direct corneal reflex is absent. Power of the muscles of mastication is normal.

Hearing is normal in both ears.

Appreciation of pain and temperature sensation is reduced down the whole of the right side of the body below the face.

Vibration and joint position sense and light touch sensation are normal.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Abilities in communication skills and in diagnostic problem solving are required. This patient is able to give a very full picture of the onset of the condition. The skill required is in listening carefully, prompting or facilitating when necessary and leaving questions to confirm clinical suspicion until after the patient has finished.


072 Performance Guidelines

Presentation to the examiner requires diagnostic problem-solving skills about: • Causes of vertigo of sudden onset including stroke or transient ischaemic attack. • Knowledge of the clinical picture presented by obstruction of the blood supply to the brain stem and cerebellum. • Significance of crossed signs, particularly loss of pain sensation to left face but to opposite side of trunk and limbs. • Appreciation of cardiovascular risk in this patient. • Ability to use clinical reasoning skills to explain neurological signs found on physical examination. • Appreciating the need for further assessment on an urgent basis. • Choosing the investigation most urgently required. Response to observing examiner The candidate should recognise that vertigo is of central brain stem/cerebellar origin rather than peripheral vestibular origin. Its acute onset, associated symptoms and signs and lack of further progression suggest vascular obstruction rather than haemorrhage. The cerebellum and brain stem are the areas involved. Differential diagnosis All unlikely, but other potential causes of vertigo include • acute labyrinthitis • benign paroxysmal vertigo • Meniere syndrome • migraine • cerebral tumour • multiple sclerosis Response to patient and immediate management There is a need for immediate hospital admission. Advise that the patient has had a 'mild stroke' as suspected, but that confirmatory investigation is necessary. This should include urgent assessment by a specialist physician/neurologist. It would be reasonable to reassure the patient about the future but to emphasise the need to pay attention to the underlying risk factors which will require ongoing management after recovery from this event. The inclusion of a neurological case of this complexity may be more threatening to candidates than other cases. Examiners are asked to take this into account when marking. If the candidate obtains a detailed history, makes a reasonable attempt at explaining the findings on neurological examination, recognises that the presence of neurological signs as described, in addition to nystagmus, is indicative of a brain stem lesion and realises that this is a serious disorder of cerebrovascular origin involving the cerebellum/brain stem and that it requires urgent investigation, then a clear pass level would be achieved. The posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA) syndrome is, however, well documented and should not be an unduly difficult diagnosis for a well prepared candidate to suspect from the history and confirm by the physical findings.


072 Performance Guidelines

Investigations Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) should be advised associated with hospital admission. Computed tomography (CT) with CT angiography is also acceptable. Other investigations can be undertaken later. Problem solving ability •

Clinical reasoning skills.

Data assimilation from history and examination.


Recognition of an acute cerebral vascular event affecting the vertebrobasilar system.

Appreciation that this combination of symptoms and signs implies brain stem/cerebellar disease.

Immediate management including appropriate investigation.

Knowledge of the disease process Recognition that the patient has had a serious cerebrovascular incident (i.e. 'stroke'). Understanding that the pathology is in the area of the vertebrobasilar arterial system. Knowledgeable candidates may recognise the likelihood of posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA) obstruction, most likely due to thrombosis of the vertebral artery. Embolism is also possible. Relationship of this episode to the patient's cardiovascular risk factors should be recognised. CRITICAL ERRORS •

Failure to recognise likelihood of cerebral/cerebellar vascular lesion.

Failure to advise hospital admission.

COMMENTARY In this scenario, the sudden onset of vertigo has not been associated with tinnitus or hearing loss, so the vestibulocochlear system seems likely to be intact. True vertigo (a sense of rotation between patient and surroundings) is in this instance accompanied by ataxia (= Greek, without order, in particular a disturbed gait) suggesting an acute cerebellar disturbance. A cerebellar source is also suggested by the motor incoordination, without any weakness, in upper and lower limbs. What else is going on? Other clinical features suggest that a unilateral lower brain stem disorder is also present Sensory loss to pain is crossed between the face and the body. There is loss of pain sensation on the left side of the face, but in the trunk and limbs there is dissociated anaesthesia — sensation of pain and temperature is impaired on the right side All forms of ascending sensation for projection into the contralateral cerebral hemisphere come together at the level of the medulla, (where decussation of the uncrossed fibres of vibration and joint sense [and half touch] in the posterior columns occurs to join previously crossed pain and temperature fibres [and half touch] running in the spinothalamic tracts) as illustrated in Figure 1. The combination of cerebellar ataxia and crossed sensory loss suggests a left sided lower midbrain and cerebellar lesion


072 Performance Guidelines


Internal Capsule


All sensation modalities now conjoined and contralateral

PONS V n. Sensory, nucleus

Position, vibration, 1/2 touch cross in upper medulla Cuneate & Gracile tubercles

medial lemniscus

Spinothalamic tract (s.t ) Pain Temperature 1 /2 Touch

Spinal Cord

Sensory Ascending Pathways

Condition 072. Figure 1 Are any other brain stem nuclei or long tracts involved? Yes, the cervical sympathetic outflow is interrupted. Descending excitatory sympathetic fibres to the cervicothoracic outflow are also concentrated in the medulla. There is a left Horner syndrome (which fits a left sided lesion) catching the sympathetic head and neck outflow. Loss of sensation to the left cheek suggests that the left 5th nerve sensory pain nucleus is involved, with loss also of the corneal reflex.


072 Performance Guidelines

The findings fit a left posterolateral lower lateral medullary and left cerebellar lesion This would be explained by a focal infarct involving the vertebrobasilar system, nofthe carotid and its branches. The anatomy of the blood vessels and cranial nerves is as illustrated (Figures 2-5).




VENTRAL VIEW - BLOOD VESSELS & CRANIAL NERVES va. vertebral artery b.a. basilar artery a.i.e.a. anterior inferior cerebellar artery p.i.e.a. posterior inferior cerebellar artery a.c.a anterior communicating artery a s a anterior spinal artery __________________________________________________________________________ CONDITION 072. FIGURE 2.


072 Performance Guidelines

The acuteness of onset suggests embolism or thrombosis. There are no cardiac arrhythmias to favour embolism, so an acute thrombosis affecting a left sided artery supplying cerebellum and brain stem is most likely (distal left vertebral artery). The patient has coexisting vascular risk factors. The absence of progression, and sudden onset make a haemorrhagic stroke less likely. The differential diagnosis would include other causes of vertigo: Meniere syndrome, chronic petrositis, cerebellopontine angle tumour, and other neurological problems. None is as likely as a vascular stroke. Knowledgeable candidates may recognise that this cluster of symptoms and signs is classical of thrombosis of the posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA syndrome). The cerebellum and brain stem receive their blood supply via the superior and inferior cerebellar arteries, arising from basilar or vertebral arteries. The relevant vascular and cross sectional anatomy is indicated in Figures 2-5

3rd & 4th nerve


Ascending contralateral sensory pathways Descending sympathetic fibres

Descending ipsilateral upper motor neurone pathways




072 Performance Guidelines



072 Performance Guidelines

CROSS - SECTION MEDULLA - C CONDITION 072. FIGURE 5. The patient's MRI is shown and demonstrates a left sided focal cerebellopontine vascular infarction. The patient made a rapid recovery.


MRI of patient's head showing left cerebellar and brain stem ischaemic infarction


072 Performance Guidelines

Cerebellar functions include ipsilateral stabilisation of motor movements and coordination and balance. Differentiation of different causes of ataxia can be helped by associated symptoms - sensory ataxia due to loss of position sense is worse in dark conditions. Cerebellar Disturbances cause: Cerebellar ataxic gait — with a staggering broad based gait like a drunken sailor, and a tendency to fall to the side of the lesion. The gait of sensory ataxia from bilateral dorsal column loss with loss of position sense is by contrast a high 'stamping' gait with positive Rombergism (instability standing with eyes shut). Cerebellar incoordination — Various tests evince incoordination of upper and lower limbs 'past-pointing'; 'finger-nose tests' with eyes open or closed; 'dysdiadochokinesia' on rhythmic pronation-supination, or alternate hand slapping; or knee-shin-ankle placement by other foot, or rhythmic flexion-extension of ankle. Additional brain stem damage may be found, for example: •


5th nerve


7th nerve

muscles of mastication, facial sensation loss of taste to side of tongue and motor weakness


8th nerve

disturbance of hearing


9th nerve

difficulties with swallowing


10th nerve


The PICA syndrome classically presents, as in this case, with a dramatic onset of cerebellar signs with ataxia and vertigo, usually without tinnitus or deafness. Associated cerebral sympathetic paralysis with an ipsilateral Horner syndrome (ptosis, miosis, anhydrosis, enophthalmos) from medullary brain stem involvement is common, as is an ipsilateral loss of facial sensation to pain due to 5th nerve involvement, and other medullary brain stem nuclei may be affected. Loss of pain and temperature sensation from opposite (right) side of the body due to involvement of left spinothalamic tract is also seen. Dissociated anaesthesia (diminution of pain and temperature sensation with retention of touch and of other forms of sensation) is classical of a brain stem or spinal lesion below the pons, and occurs most notably in Brown-Séquard Syndrome (hemisection of cord) with findings as illustrated (Figure 7): • • • •

Focal ipsilateral lower motor neuron lesion at the level of the spinal cord injury. Ipsilateral upper motor neuron lesion paralysis below the injury. Ipsilateral dorsal column sensory loss (position and vibration sense) below the injury Contralateral spinothalamic loss (pain and temperature) below the injury


072 Performance Guidelines



073 Performance Guidelines

Condition 073 Urinary frequency in a 60-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's history-taking skills, knowledge of the symptomatology and confirmatory testing for maturity onset Type 2 diabetes and the investigations which should be undertaken in a recently diagnosed diabetic. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are aged 60 years. You are consulting your general practitioner about urinary symptoms. You also have concerns about cancer (your father had prostate cancer) and loss of sexual function, but these should not be immediately revealed to the doctor. Opening Statement:

‘I seem to need to go to the toilet to pass urine more often lately doctor.’ In response to the doctor's enquiries, respond as follows but do not volunteer all this information without appropriate prompting by the doctor. Over about the last three months you have been passing urine more often during the day and have to get out of bed to pass urine at least twice each night. You also suffer from leg cramps, worse at night, and your feet have felt slightly numb. You have felt thirstier lately and your mouth has been dry. You have been worried that your symptoms are due to prostate trouble because of your father's history and recent publicity about prostate cancer Review of general health You have lost 4 kg in weight, over the past three months. Admit to feeling tired recently — 'Maybe I'm just worried.' Admit to loss of libido and inability to obtain and sustain an erection over last 3-4 months. Admit to recent deterioration in eyesight, if asked. ‘I suppose I need new

glasses at my age. ' Review of relevant systems No other deviations from normal. No dysuria. No incontinence. Normal stream. No other symptoms suggestive of prostatism with bladder neck obstruction. No chest pain or breathlessness. You are a previous patient but not well known to the doctor. Be pleasant, straightforward, except for some embarrassment over sexual activity. You are worried about prostate cancer. The doctor may ask additional questions about you. If so. respond as follows: Smoking habits:


Alcohol use: Drug

Two cans light ale daily



Family history:

Father died from a stroke aged 80 years — also had prostate cancer. Mother in nursing home — Dementia.

Past medical history:


no serious illnesses.

073 Performance Guidelines

Physical examination findings to be given to the candidate from examiner on request He is significantly overweight with abdominal obesity. Blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg, pulse is regular. He has mild blunting of all sensory modalities in his feet. Neurological examination is otherwise normal. Genital and rectal examinations are normal, without evidence of prostatic enlargement or nodularity. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Summarise the problems presented by the patient: ~ urinary symptoms, thirst, weight loss; ~ numbness in feet and visual disturbance: ~ fear of cancer; ~ erectile dysfunction/reduced libido; and ~ maturity-onset diabetes as the most likely diagnosis. • Request urinalysis and random blood sugar using glucometer. ESSENTIAL OFFICE INVESTIGATIONS — TO BE PROVIDED BY EXAMINER WHEN REQUESTED Urinalysis — positive for glucose (++++), ketones (+), negative for protein. Random blood sugar should be done in the consulting room with glucometer. Result of 21 mmol/L effectively confirms diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. OTHER INVESTIGATIONS • urea, creatinine and electrolyte levels; • glucose tolerance test to confirm definitive diagnosis (although the level of random blood sugar puts the diagnosis effectively beyond doubt); • microscopy and culture urine — checking for microalbuminuria; • serum lipids — cholesterol, triglycerides, Low/High Density Lipoprotein (LDL/HDL) and ratio; • ECG to check for presence of undiagnosed ischaemic heart disease; • glycosylated Hb should be done as baseline; • full blood examination and erythrocyte sedimentation rate: and • prostate specific antigen (PSA) level indicated in view of his family history and concerns. KEY ISSUES • Diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes mellitus by appropriate consultation (history, examination and office tests). • Appropriate further investigation of newly diagnosed diabetic. • Recognition of fear of cancer and sexual dysfunction. CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to test urine or measure random blood sugar at this consultation


073 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY The constellation of symptoms of polyuria, thirst, weight loss, sensory and visual disturbances, and erectile dysfunction, should raise suspicion of maturity-onset Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Urinary chemical testing and random blood sugar assessment applied to overweight adults over 45 years will pick up at least as many nonsymptomatic undiagnosed diabetics as are found on symptomatic presentation.


2-E: The Paediatric Consultation Peter J Vine 'Children are not simply micro-adults, but have their own specific problems.' Beta Schick (1877-1967)

There are many very positive features about working with Recognition of the features children — they are much less complex than adults and usually in the history and in the under most clinical situations have only one presenting clinical signs that indicate complaint, unencumbered by a series of complicating past that a child is significantly ill events or of age-related disease.

is a skill that must be

Medical care and assessment of children is often a developed by anyone caring multidisciplinary process. Contrary to popular belief in some circles, children are not just scaled-down adults, but rather their needs are under the influence of a variety of variable factors, all of which have a profound effect on the development of the child as he or she progresses to adulthood. All of these influences therefore must be taken into account when consulting with children and these vary depending on the age of the child. Children in Australia have generally been spared the traumas experienced by their peers in third world countries, or those torn apart and disrupted by war and natural disaster. Refugee children come from other lands rather than our own, and have their own problems related to this background. However within our indigenous populations, the health of the children often is equivalent to those in developing countries — with high infant mortality, a high incidence of conditions uncommonly seen in the urban populations (for example, rheumatic fever), and a reduced adult life span, Australia is a multicultural nation with 25% of the population being born overseas according to 1 the latest Census. Many children are first generation Australians born in this country to immigrant parents. Our capital cities in particular have people from many nations residing in them who have cultural beliefs and practices of which doctors need to be aware. Except in the case of older children where the direct history from the child is most appropriate, the paediatric history is usually given by a third person, commonly a parent or caregiver. Often with new arrivals, the history is given by yet another intermediary, an interpreter, who may or may not be a relative, which may add yet another dimension to the consultation. Many medical practitioners admit to being rather frightened at the prospect of caring for children, as the process is so different from that related to adults where the history is obtained from the patients themselves. Other doctors are apprehensive at being able to perform an adequate examination of a child. Nowhere else in medicine is it so essential to have expert observation skills than in paediatrics. Many diagnoses can be made just by observation of the child while the history is obtained, before any formal examination is performed. Recognition of the features in the history and in the clinical signs that indicate that a child is significantly ill is a skill that must be developed by anyone caring for children. While they do become ill quickly and, if untreated, deteriorate more rapidly than adults, children also repair and recover quickly. It is imperative that if any child is not improving at a time when improvement is expected, an immediate investigation into what might be complicating the situation must be instigated. 1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005



The Paediatric Consultation

While many illnesses seen in children also occur in adults (for example, asthma) the requisite skill is knowing the variations that must be considered in the child which will influence future management. An example is the method of administering bronchodilator therapy in young children. While the same medications are used, their methods of administration are very different, with small volume spacers and masks designed for very young children. There are also many conditions that are specific to children, for example hypertrophic pyloric stenosis and cystic fibrosis — although the latter has now become an adult disease, and adult practitioners need to be aware of management of this condition. While intussusception can occur in adults in later years, secondary to a number of bowel lesions, 'primary' intussusception is a very prominent condition in infants, which must be considered in any infant presenting with colicky abdominal pain. In this country, the majority of children seen in clinical practice present with relatively minor complaints, but practitioners must always be vigilant for the circumstances when they should be considering more complex conditions specific to infants and children. Such situations are usually recognised from the history or the appearance of the child on examination. Beware of the listless infant or child who allows you to perform any examination you wish. This is usually a very sick child. Prescription of drugs is also different in children: most drugs are given on a mg per kg basis up to a certain weight and age. Similarly intravenous and oral fluids are calculated on a mL per kilogram basis and need to be calculated carefully for each child. Specific pocket handbooks with this information are published by several of the major Australian paediatric teaching hospitals. The needs of children to develop their potential and to remain in good health are legion. While we practise in a so-called developed country, we still have a significant percentage of our child population who live in extremely adverse circumstances, whether these relate to poor nutrition, poor socioeconomic circumstances, poor parenting skills, harmful emotional environment or even deprivation. Many primary schools arrange breakfast for their pupils as for one reason or another the children leave home for school having not eaten. As each year goes by, the needs of the child change. Many parents find it difficult to provide for those needs, to the detriment of the child's development. The general practitioner is often an appropriate person to assess this situation. Unfortunately all too commonly children in our country are the subjects of abuse, whether it be physical, sexual or emotional, and the medical practitioner needs to be alert to this possibility, especially when the presentation is at odds with what is observed. Australian law mandates that in each suspicious case, the relevant appropriate authorities are to be notified. As is typical of the industrialised countries, the spectrum of conditions seen by medical practitioners has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. Rather than malnutrition, many of the problems we see are related to inappropriate nutritional habits and inactivity leading to obesity. Emotional and behavioural problems are common and often relate to the child's life experiences. 1 Some situations that may influence these are: • many children under two years of age participate in formal child care while parents work, almost a necessity for maintaining a suitable income:

1 Practical Paediatrics Ed. MJ Robinson, DM Roberton 5th Ed. Churchill Livingstone 2003 p2.



The Paediatric Consultation

• the extended family in many communities is scattered and less accessible, as young adults move freely around the country seeking employment; • one in five children will experience divorce of their parents before mid teens; • a significant percentage of children live in one-parent families; many in two-parent families live in very unhappy circumstances; • with the higher divorce rate, blended families, where children from previous marriages live together, can often be a source of major conflict. Having two 13-year-old females suddenly living together can be quite trying; and • tobacco and/or alcohol use, especially binge drinking, is common in teenagers, and most high school students are aware of where they can obtain cannabis and other drugs. Years ago, Dr Howard Williams of Melbourne, a mentor to many practising Australian paediatricians and one of the forerunners of paediatrics in this country, used to urge his postgraduate students to be aware of 'the new morbidity'. He stated that his generation had overcome much of the infectious disease morbidity and mortality with antibiotics and immunisation, but that behaviour problems, disrupted families and the effect on the children involved would be a major part of the work of the modern practitioner. How right he was, as much of the consultation time of paediatricians in this country is taken up with oppositional defiant behaviour, attention deficit disorder, and other developmental behavioural problems. Much of this may be related to the sociological change in child rearing. Children of today largely depend on artificial media for entertainment in their spare time — television, cinema, electronic games, many of which require little if any intellectual skills and commonly have a strong base of violence and aggression. Add to this a high divorce rate and the loss in many instances of the extended family and the scene may be ripe for acting-out behaviour. The physical and emotional needs of the growing child must therefore be kept to the fore when children are being assessed. The presentation of a child with an emotional problem can be quite varied and commonly may be organically based, so that the practitioner must be very alert to this possibility. The care of the disabled child, whether it is a physical or intellectual disability, often falls to the primary practitioner for day-to-day events. Detailed knowledge of rare conditions is not generally necessary, but the support given to parents as they advocate for their offspring can be a major role asked of the practitioner. Advice concerning screening procedures and genetics is also a common question, which the practitioner should refer to a higher authority, as the explosion of knowledge in these fields is occurring at such an alarming rate that it has outstripped the ability of most of us to keep up-to-date. The internet has revolutionised the practice of medicine, including paediatrics, as parents consult the internet for advice on conditions their children are reported to have. Often parents may self-diagnose based on this information, but generally present with their downloaded information asking for explanation of the contents. Many sites unfortunately are inaccurate and anecdotal. Hence the practitioner's role often is to sift through this information and to give an accurate précis of the particular condition. A complete history, examination and discussion with a parent of a child's problem can take considerable time. In the AMC MCAT examination, only certain aspects will be examined in any one scenario. For example, the task may involve coming to a diagnosis from the information supplied and then counselling a parent on the management of the child's condition. Or it may be taking a focused history to determine the cause of the presentation.



The Paediatric Consultation

Candidates therefore are assessed on their ability to relate to a worried parent of a sick child at a standard expected by the Australian community. It can be seen then that working with children, while it can be a complex business, is generally quite ordered and rewarding if aware of the various factors that influence the development both physically and emotionally of the child, as well as being mindful and knowledgeable about the specific conditions that are peculiar to children. Children are fun to work with, are honest and much less complex than most adults. They do however have special needs and are afflicted by many conditions specific to their age group, whether it be neonate or teenager, and the competent practitioner needs to be aware of these conditions in order to consider them, no matter how minor the complaint appears to be. The ability to counsel worried parents in an empathie manner is paramount for successful paediatric practice. Peter J Vine



The Paediatric Consultation

2-E The Paediatric Consultation Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 074-077 74

Neonatal jaundice in the first day of life


Immunisation advice to the parent of a 6-week-old baby


Dark urine, facial swelling and irritability in a 5-year-old boy


Fever and sore throat in a 5-year-old boy



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 074 Neonatal jaundice in the first day of life CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS History You are asked to see an infant, Jessica, born 24 hours ago, for jaundice. She is the first child of a healthy mother, whose pregnancy was normal. Delivery was at term, by a midwife, and was uneventful. The infant weighed 3700 g at birth. Jaundice was noticed soon after birth, within the first 24 hours. The infant has been sucking well at the breast. The mother wants to go home as soon as possible. Examination Findings The infant is clinically jaundiced but otherwise well and active with no hepatosplenomegaly or other abnormal physical signs. You have obtained all relevant findings on history and examination. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Ask the observing examiner for results of any investigations you consider necessary.

Advise the parent on diagnosis and management.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 074 can be found on page 405

Condition 075 Immunisation advice to the parent of a 6-week-old baby CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your next patient is baby Laura brought by her mother to a general practice at six weeks of age, as part of routine postnatal followup. Laura is the couples first child. The babe is breastfed and gaining weight normally. Her mother wants to know what you would advise about immunisation because she and her husband have recently heard conflicting views expressed in the media. General examination of the baby reveals no abnormality. She was given her first hepatitis B vaccination soon after birth. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Outline the current immunisation protocol you would recommend and what diseases the programme is protecting against.

Discuss any concerns the parents have about immunisation.

You will not be expected to take any additional history or ask for examination findings. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 075 can be found on page 408



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 076 Dark urine, facial swelling and irritability in a 5-year-old boy CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS A five-year-old boy is brought to the Emergency Department because of swelling around the eyes. He has only been passing small amounts of urine, which is dark in colour. In the past 12 hours he has become restless and irritable. The child had school sores (impetigo) three weeks ago, treated successfully with a topical antibiotic cream, but has had no other prior illnesses. Both parents are well. The child is an only child and has always kept in good health. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Ask the examiner for the relevant physical findings you wish to elicit. • Discuss with the parent your provisional diagnosis.

Advise details of any investigations that are required and advise the parent of the treatment that will be needed.

You do not need to take any further history. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 076 can be found on page 412

Condition 077 Fever and sore throat in a 5-year-old boy CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Peter, a five-year-old boy is brought to you in a general practice setting by his parent with a fever of 40 °C that developed overnight. He complains of an intensely sore throat and finds it sore when he swallows food or fluid, although he is able to do so. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Indicate to the examiner the clinical examination you would perform to diagnose the problem. The examiner will give you the results of the physical examination. • Discuss with the parent any investigations you feel are necessary. • Explain your diagnosis and suggest management to the mother. You do not need to take any further history. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 077 can be found on page 414


2-E The Paediatric Consultation

2-E The Paediatric Consultation Performance Guidelines MCAT 074-077 74

Neonatal jaundice in the first day of life


Immunisation advice to the parent of a 6-week-o!d baby


Dark urine, facial swelling and irritability in a 5-year-old boy


Fever and sore throat in a 5-year-old boy


074 Performance Guidelines

Condition 074 Neonatal jaundice in the first day of life AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of causes of neonatal jaundice occurring in the first 24 hours after birth, and the appropriate management of the condition. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS This scenario illustrates the common problem of ABO blood group incompatibility with the classic combination of a mother group O Positive and a baby A Positive, and a strongly positive Coombs test. The baby's bilirubin level has reached a total of 250 umol/L at 24 hours of age. Phototherapy is required, which should prevent further rise in bilirubin, but will be needed for several days. The problem is compounded by the mother's disappointment. She is a young professional woman who wanted a completely natural delivery and management and is disappointed that she is not allowed to go home as her infant requires treatment. Investigation results/details to be given to candidate by examiner on request Tests performed: • Mother's blood group

0 Rh positive.

• Infant's blood group

A Rh positive. Direct Coombs test strongly positive.

• Infant's Hb

170 g/L.

• Blood film


• Bilirubin

Total 250 umol/L Conjugated 6 umol/L at 24 hours.

The biochemist indicates that this is abnormal, but below the range at which exchange transfusion is indicated. The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: • You gave birth to your first child 24 hours ago. • You believe childbirth is a natural phenomenon, and resent medical intervention. • You are well educated, and were recently a middle-level manager in a successful company. • You insisted your obstetrician allowed you to have a natural childbirth with appropriate assistance from a midwife, and that you could go home on day two. • Now that your babe has become jaundiced, you are confused and upset. • After appropriate discussion, you will accept the doctor's recommendations if they are given clearly and empathically.


074 Performance Guidelines

Questions to ask or statements you could make: •

‘I expected everything to be normal. '

‘Why do I need to stay longer in hospital? I want to go home. '

‘Is treatment really necessary?'

‘What would happen if no treatment were given?'

'Are there any side effects of this light treatment?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should explain the following: •

Jaundice occurring in the first 24 hours after birth is not due to immature liver function, but usually due to haemolysis consequence upon blood group incompatibility. In a primiparous woman, ABO incompatibility would be the most likely cause.

ABO incompatibility — this has been confirmed by the tests done.

Consequence of severe neonatal jaundice and the need for phototherapy and monitoring.

Exchange transfusion unlikely to be required but could be an option if jaundice worsens despite phototherapy.

The technique of phototherapy, its side-effects and reassurance regarding aspects which could cause anxiety: ~ Jessica's bowel motion may be a loose green/black colour while under lights. ~ Her eyes will be covered while she is under lights to protect her eyes ~ Baby is only under lights when not feeding and is sleeping. ~ Phototherapy may be able to be given in the room where mother is staying in hospital.

Excellent prognosis.

Arrange continued stay in hospital for mother and infant with facility for mother to continue breastfeeding.

Followup developmental assessment and audiometry — not usually discussed at this first consultation.


Recognition of haemolytic disease of newborn and its immediate treatment.

Empathie but realistic communication with new parent.

Ability to relate to mother's disappointment with need for medical intervention.

CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to recognise haemolytic disease of newborn and failure to advise phototherapy.


074 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY The dominant cue in this example is neonatal jaundice in the first day of life. Jaundice occurs frequently in the neonatal period, but when seen on the first day of life, it indicates a pathological and potentially dangerous rise in bilirubin level. In the common, so-called 'physiological jaundice', the serum bilirubin rises more slowly, and jaundice is not apparent on the first day. Haemolytic disease is the most common cause of potentially dangerous neonatal jaundice. As it is readily treatable, and complications potentially avoidable, early diagnosis is mandatory. Hyperbilirubinaemia is likely to reach a maximum level around the third day of life. There is a diagnostic rule that 'jaundice on the first day of life is haemolytic unless proven otherwise' This originated in the days when Rh haemolytic disease was a common cause. The jaundice of the affected infant could increase rapidly, so immediate diagnosis and often exchange transfusion were required to avoid the serious complication of kernicterus or later nerve deafness. The candidate familiar with this rule will immediately refine the cue to: 'Jaundice on the first day of life, probably haemolytic' This scenario is an example of the need for pattern recognition where urgent diagnosis is required. To frame the problem more clearly, the clinician needs to seek evidence confirming the existence of haemolysis and defining the degree of hyperbilirubinaemia. The protocol states that hepatosplenomegaly is not present. This makes the severe intrauterine haemolysis seen in some cases of Rh haemolytic disease less likely, but does not exclude less dramatic forms of haemolysis. The crucial laboratory tests in establishing the diagnosis are examination of blood group of mother and infant, and direct Coombs test. The scenario of a group O Positive mother and a group A Positive infant indicates the potential for the infant's blood to be harmed by maternal anti-A antibody. The positive direct Coombs test confirms that the infant's red cells have been sensitised by antibody and establishes the diagnosis of haemolytic disease due to AO incompatibility. In deciding management and providing further confirmation of the diagnosis, estimation of serum bilirubin level (direct-reacting and indirect-reacting) should be performed. Bilirubin is derived from the catabolism of haeme proteins produced in the breakdown of red blood cells. Unconjugated (indirect-reacting) bilirubin is converted in the liver to conjugated (direct-reacting) bilirubin, and excreted into the bile. Conjugated bilirubin is not reabsorbed once it enters the intestinal tract. In the present scenario, the level of bilirubin is insufficient to warrant exchange transfusion, but the clinical picture, combined with laboratory confirmation of an unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia exceeding 240 umol/L, confirms the need for treatment with phototherapy. The degree of haemolysis should be defined by measuring the infant's haemoglobin, though simple transfusion for correction of the anaemia will rarely be required in AO haemolytic disease and is not needed here. In this scenario, discussion of other haemolytic or nonhaemolytic causes of neonatal jaundice is not required once the problem is correctly framed as 'jaundice on the first day of life'. As indicated in the examiners' 'Performance Criteria', the candidate is not only expected to make the diagnosis, but to provide information in a persuasive and lucid manner to justify medical intervention, while recognising the mother's disappointment.


075 Performance Guidelines

Condition 075 Immunisation advice to the parent of a 6-week-old baby AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of the currently recommended immunisation programme in Australia, knowledge of side effects and the latest information concerning claims of associations with serious medical conditions. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: •

You are the mother of a six-week-old baby, Laura.

• •

You are an educated parent in a stable marriage. You are widely read and take an interest in popular medical articles especially during your pregnancy, as you were concerned about some information you had read and heard about immunisation and its possible adverse effects.

You are taking the opportunity of the six week visit to have these concerns clarified.

Questions to ask unless already covered: • • • • • • • • • •

'What vaccines or injections will Laura need to be immunised with, up to school age?' 'What problems might she have?' 'Are there any children who shouldn't have these vaccines 9 ' 'I've heard the whooping cough vaccine can cause brain damage. Can we leave it out 9 ' 'What other side effects happen with these vaccines 9 ' 'What if we didn't give these vaccines — can't you just treat any infections with antibiotics anyway?' ‘I have a friend who goes to a homoeopath and he gives the same vaccines, but very diluted, by mouth and there are no side effects. Is that an alternative?' 'What about other alternative vaccines?' 'I've heard babies can get high fever and be guite sick after some of these injections. Can you do anything to ease the side effects?' 'I've also heard about a vaccine for chicken pox. Is this available and do you advise it?

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should give the parent a succinct and accurate regimen for the immunisation that is currently recommended, with special reference to those given at two months. If uncertain, the candidate should be aware of the current NHMRC Immunisation Guidelines and how to access them. Examiners should be aware that the recommended schedule has changed annually over the last several years as new vaccines have been introduced. In the future, combination vaccines which will reduce the number of injections are expected and small variations to the schedule will be needed to accommodate these. To reduce reliance on single suppliers, several versions of these combination vaccines are likely to be approved and thus variations as currently seen in the schedule will become more common. Because of this, candidates should demonstrate familiarity with the basic principles of the immunisation


075 Performance Guidelines

schedule rather than detailed knowledge of precise recommendations, particularly for States other than the one in which they work. Examiners should also be aware that the level of understanding expected should match the current edition of the immunisation handbook rather than vaccines introduced subsequent to publication of the handbook. The following would generally be recommended: • At birth: Hepatitis B (hepB). • At 2 months and 4 months: Acellular diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTPa); H.influenzae type B (Hib); oral or inactivated polio vaccine (O/IPV); hepatitis B (hepB); 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (7VPCV). • At 6 months: Acellular diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTPa); oral or inactivated polio vaccine (O/IPV); (hepatitis B [hepB] in NSW, QLD, SA. NT); 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (7VPCV). • At 12 months: Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); H.influenzae type B (Hib); meningococcus (MenC): (hepatitis B [hepB]) in VIC, WA, TAS). • At 18 months: Varicella zoster virus (VZV); 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (23VPPV). • At 4 years: Acellular diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTPa); measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); oral or inactivated polio vaccine (O/IPV). Examiners should note that there are slightly different recommendations for the immunisation schedule from State to State. What is being tested in this scenario is whether the candidate is aware of the general principles for DTP, Hib, polio, hepB, MMR, meningococcus, pneumococcus, chicken pox. Candidates should address specific concerns that the mother may have regarding possible side effects and the incidence of these. If the parent has no particular concerns, the candidate should discuss known side effects and how these can be reduced, but stress that these are few and minor and that vaccinations are safe. Also stress the marked decrease in the incidence of side effects with the use of acellular vaccines for pertussis. Candidates should discuss the few absolute contraindications to vaccination. These are encephalopathy within seven days of a previous DTP-containing vaccine or an immediate severe or anaphylactic reaction to vaccination with DTP. A simple febrile convulsion or preexisting neurologic disease are not contraindications to pertussis vaccine. Children with minor illnesses, i.e. without systemic illness and providing the temperature is less than 38.5 "C, may be vaccinated safely. With a major illness or a high fever, the vaccination should be postponed until the child is well. Live vaccines (MMR, oral poliomyelitis, rubella, chicken pox) should not be administered to immunocompromised patients. An anaphylactic reaction to egg is not a contraindication to MMR vaccine, but many authorities recommend that in such a case it should be administered in an area where resuscitative equipment is available and the child be observed for 4 hours. The following are NOT contraindications to any of the vaccines in the standard schedule: • family history of adverse reactions to immunisation; • family history of convulsions; • previous pertussis-like illness, measles, mumps or rubella infection; • prematurity (immunisation should not be delayed);


075 Performance Guidelines

stable neurological conditions (e.g. cerebral palsy, Down syndrome);

contact with an infectious disease

asthma, eczema, atopy, hay fever, 'snuffles';

treatment with antibiotics;

treatment with locally inhaled or low dose topical steroids;

child's mother is pregnant;

child is breastfed;

history of jaundice after birth;

over the age recommended in vaccination schedule;

recent or imminent surgery; and

replacement corticosteroids.

Candidates may mention the reported association of measles vaccination with autism The knowledgeable candidate will be aware that no association has been convincingly demonstrated and several studies show no link at all. Candidates should state that there is no evidence for the efficacy of alternative (homoeopathic) oral vaccines given sublingual^ Latest vaccination now available for varicella-zoster virus (the cause of chicken pox) and meningococcus should be discussed and recommended. Candidates should stress that many of these diseases are still prevalent in the community (e.g. pertussis, pneumococcal and meningococcal infections, and varicella). Candidates may suggest paracetamol for fever and pain after vaccination as necessary, including a single dose about 30 minutes prior to DTPa prophylactically and for subsequent immunisation if significant reaction with fever with first or second dose. KEY ISSUES •

Knowledge of basic principles of current immunisation regimens.

Explanation and accurate nformation regarding benefits of immunisation

Exploration of parental concerns.


Candidate provides wrong advice regarding contraindications to immunisation. Recommendation or acceptance of sublingual homoeopathic vaccines.

COMMENTARY This scenario is concerned with counselling a young mother on the advantages and disadvantages of immunisation. This requires of candidates a sound knowledge of the topic and an ability to give the information to the parent in a manner that gives a balanced overview, without domineering with their own personal feelings. This is a very common situation in general practice where patients will often attend to discuss with the doctor, beliefs they have, or to seek further information on a topic. Doctors should not hesitate to admit that they do not know a particular answer but should offer to seek the answer and communicate it at a later date. Updated immunisation schedules such as the one illustrated are available from paediatric hospitals. Candidates should be aware of the absolute contraindications to the standard vaccinations and also the false contraindications which are so often quoted.


CONDITION 075. FIGURE 1. Immunisation schedule guidelines adapted from Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, 2006


076 Performance Guidelines

Condition 076 Dark urine, facial swelling and irritability in a 5-year-old boy AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise that this child most likely has acute poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN) which requires hospitalisation in view of hypertension and recent irritability. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are the parent of a five-year-old boy. You are particularly concerned about the dark urine and swelling of the boy's face. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The child has never been really sick before. This illness is all very unusual and worrying. Questions to ask unless already covered: • • • • • •

'Why has this happened?' 'Will my son be all right?' 'What is going to happen now?' (If hospitalisation is recommended) 'What is going to be done to my son in hospital?' (If hospitalisation is recommended) 'What are they looking for with these tests?' 'How long will it take to get results?'

If kidney biopsy is mentioned, become even more concerned. •

‘Is that really necessary?'

'Why is blood testing not enough?' Relevant physical findings to be given to the candidate on request Resting blood pressure

145/90 mmHg. No postural hypotension.


36.5 °C.


90/min regular.

Periorbital oedema present

no oedema elsewhere. no ascites or pleural effusions.

Cardiovascular system


Liver edge

palpable just below the costal margin.

Optic fundi


ENT examination


Urine dipstick

strongly positive (++) for blood and protein.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should explain the cause of the child's clinical picture in terms the parent can understand, and without medical jargon. This would include that the original skin streptococcal infection (impetigo) has triggered an immune reaction of the body against the organism and that this reaction is occurring in the kidneys causing a major effect on


076 Performance Guidelines

their function. This then leads to a fall in urine output, and salt and fluid retention that causes the swelling of his eyes and raised blood pressure. Hospital admission is desirable in view of the acute presentation and hypertension Investigations required will include blood and urine tests to confirm the provisional diagnosis of PSGN. Tests to be ordered should include: • Urea and electrolytes, creatinine, inflammatory markers — C3, C4, ASOT, DNAase B • Urine micro and culture, full blood examination Immediate management • Admission to hospital. • Strict fluid balance and restricted fluid intake • Test all urine - four-hourly blood pressure and other vital signs. • Daily weight. • Low protein, low salt/high carbohydrate diet. • Antihypertensive treatment. • Penicillin therapy may be suggested — but is not essential • Renal biopsy is not needed for diagnosis at this stage. Future management • Monitor blood pressure and renal function weekly/monthly/quarterly as needed as convalescence progresses. • Regular urinalysis (microscopic haematuria may persist for up to two years). • Long term prognosis is excellent with a very low incidence of sequelae; so positive and sympathetic reassurance is required. KEY ISSUES • Diagnosis of acute PSGN • Ability to specify appropriate plan of investigations. • Development of coherent treatment plan CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to admit to hospital COMMENTARY This scenario involves diagnosis, from clinical signs and appropriate investigations, and an empathie explanation of treatment. From the information given, the candidate should be able to arrive at the correct diagnosis and investigate and treat appropriately. Failing to do so puts the patient at risk. While classical poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis has become rare in many parts of Australia, knowledge of the condition is important in considering the differential diagnosis of this child's symptoms.


077 Performance Guidelines

Condition 077 Fever and sore throat in a 5-year-old boy AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose and treat a child with tonsillitis most likely due to Group A β-haemolytic Streptococcus. Some investigations to confirm this are indicated. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will advise the parent as follows: You are the mother of a five-year-old boy, Peter, who has become unwell overnight with a very sore throat and has difficulty swallowing food and drink. He most likely has an acute tonsillitis which should be treated with penicillin. The candidate may suggest some basic investigations to help confirm the diagnosis. You are worried that Peter has tonsillitis, and are concerned by his high temperature. Family history Both parents are well. Father is an office-worker, mother is at home. Three-year-old sister at kindergarten is well. Your son has had no previous antibiotic reactions. Questions to ask unless already covered: 9

'How would he get this infection '

'Is he likely to get it again?'

'What causes this infection '

'I've heard that this sort of infection can damage your heart or your kidneys or something - is that right?'

How long will he take to get better?'

'Is antibiotic therapy reguired?'


Examination findings to be given by examiner to candidate on request A flushed child, tonsils acutely inflamed with follicular exudate, with moderately enlarged and tender cervical lymph nodes on both sides. The appearance of his oropharynx and tonsils are shown in the illustration (Figure 1). which the examiner will show to the candidate. There is no evidence of neck stiffness, no hepatosplenomegaly, rash or lymph-adenopathy elsewhere. Temperature is 40 °C, blood pressure 110/70 mmHg, respiration rate 24/min, pulse rate 110/min Tympanic membranes are normal on otoscopy. Examination is otherwise normal.


077 Performance Guidelines


Acute tonsilitis

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should enquire as to the important clinical findings on examination allowing confident diagnosis of acute tonsillitis, most likely bacterial. A throat swab could help confirm this prior to antibiotic treatment. The candidate should be able to explain in simple terms the diagnosis and its associated complications in a manner that the parent can understand; and should also arrange for further review in a few days to ensure the expected recovery is occurring and if not, review and possibly seek other aetiologies. Explanation of diagnosis Acute tonsillitis, probably streptococcal. Reassure that with appropriate treatment this should resolve completely. Immediate management The candidate may wish to perform a throat swab for culture (appropriate but not obligatory). There is no need for any other investigations at this stage. Check whether antibiotic reaction previously, and prescribe oral penicillin. Advise the mother of need for frequent fluids. Prescribe analgesics. Although the problem might be viral and settle without antibiotics, the majority opinion would be that penicillin therapy is indicated because of the high likelihood of the diagnosis being streptococcal tonsillitis. If the candidate does not recommend antibiotic therapy the mother should ask whether antibiotics are needed. Antibiotic therapy would not only treat the streptococcal sore throat but would probably reduce the likelihood of serious poststreptococcal complications. Future management Suggest review in few days or earlier if concerned and if the child has not responded as expected. If this is the case, other aetiologies (e.g. infectious mononucleosis) should be sought. Stress that a full course of 10 days penicillin treatment is required. Indicate that viral infection may cause similar features, as might acute infectious mononucleosis.


077 Performance Guidelines


Appropriate examination interpretation, with appropriate diagnosis.

Adequate treatment plan.

Appropriate explanation.


Failure to consider streptococcal tonsillitis as the diagnosis. Failure to discuss followup and screening for other conditions if there is no initial improvement.

COMMENTARY This scenario assesses the ability of the candidate to come to a logical conclusion as to the most likely diagnosis (acute bacterial tonsillitis) in this situation based on the information provided and knowledge of the natural history of disease processes. The scenario tests diagnostic acumen by showing how several conditions can be safely excluded because of the history and the time frame and gives scope to considering other diagnoses if the provisional diagnosis is not confirmed.


2-F: The Obstetric Consultation



Roger J Pepperell 'Man endures pain as an undeserved punishment; woman accepts it as a natural heritage.' Anonymous Although in clinical practice obstetric and gynaecologic consultations may Although it would be unusual for involve a consideration of a complex set of symptoms and history which can you to have to examine the include relevant past history, medical history and social history, the clinical abdomen of a pregnant woman, or scenarios used as part of the MCAT examination are much more focused perform a pelvic examination in the and restricted to fit in with time constraints. The scenarios reflect conditions actual clinical MCAT examination, which should be able to be appropriately assessed and managed by a final you clearly need to know how to do year medical student or a doctor working as an intern in a public hospital or in such clinical examinations and may community practice.

well need to do such assessments

Some involve the candidate taking an appropriately focused history to enable on models which have been the diagnosis to be made. Because only eight minutes are allocated specifically designed and produced for the assessment, and the history-taking will represent only a fraction of the for this purpose. total time spent, the history-taking must concentrate on relevant issues and not be generalised, verbose and largely irrelevant. Some of the stations involve the candidate requesting the examination findings they would look for if assessing such a patient to allow the examiner to assess whether the candidate knows what examination findings are particularly relevant and important in assisting the candidate make the correct diagnosis in this circumstance. Where investigations are required to assist in making a diagnosis or starting treatment, the candidate is again expected to show perspective rather than ordering a large number of irrelevant and inappropriate tests. If the candidate needs to advise the patient on the initial management plan, this should be provided to the patient in lay language, in terms she can readily understand, with perspective and with empathy and compassion. In obstetrics and gynaecology, all of the options of management which might be appropriate need to be provided to the patient, to enable her to decide which option she will accept, and ultimately to give the clinician informed consent to proceed with the option chosen. In clinical practice today, particularly in obstetrics and gynaecology, communication with the patient, and if appropriate with her partner, is mandatory, and unless done in a manner which is acceptable to the patient, can result in the candidate being reported to the relevant medical board or health complaints commission. Where the clinician is not prepared, on religious grounds, to follow through a particular treatment which might be appropriate, such as a pregnancy termination because the fetus has a lethal congenital abnormality, the clinician has a responsibility to explain the options available to the patient, and has an obligation to offer to refer her to an appropriate physician who would provide the treatment she has accepted as being most appropriate. Personal beliefs should not restrict the matters discussed with the patient although they may affect what the clinician is actually prepared to do in terms of actual management.


2-F The Obstetric and Gynaecologic Consultation

Clinicians must preserve a nonjudgmental and supportive approach in discussion and must not impose their own religious or other nonmedical views on a concerned patient. Although it would be unusual for candidates to have to examine the abdomen of a pregnant woman, or perform a pelvic examination in the actual clinical MCAT examination, they clearly need to know how to do such clinical examinations and may well need to do such assessments on models which have been specifically designed and produced for this purpose. The various scenarios cover aspects of the female reproductive system including normal development and disorders of uterus, tubes, ovaries, vagina, fertility and contraception, hormonal influences, pregnancy, labour, abortion, obstetrical toxaemia and haemorrhage, menopause, pelvic infection, vaginal discharge, dyspareunia, haemostasis and bleeding disorders. Roger J Pepperell


2-F The Obstetric and Gynaecologic Consultation

2-F The Obstetric and Gynaecologic Consultation Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 078-082 78

Breech presentation in labour at 38 weeks in a 25-year-old woman


Vaginal bleeding in a 23-year-old woman


Cessation of periods in a 30-year-old woman on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP)


Positive culture for Group B streptococci (GBS) at 36 weeks of gestation in a 26-year-old woman


Vaginal bleeding after 8 weeks amenorrhoea in a woman with previous irregular cycles


078-079 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 078 Breech presentation in labour at 38 weeks in a 25-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in the Emergency Department of a general hospital. This patient is 3 25-year-old woman in her second pregnancy, at 38 weeks of gestation and is in early labour. Vaginal examination unexpectedly reveals a breech presentation: the legs of the fetus are apparently both extended. The cervical dilatation is 4 cm. The previous pregnancy resulted in a normal cephalic vaginal delivery of a 4 kg baby at 41 weeks of gestation. The current pregnancy has been uneventful to date and the fundal height is 38 cm above the pubic symphysis at the time of admission in labour at 38 weeks.

YOUR TASK IS TO: • Advise the patient of the possibilities in regard to subsequent management and the pros and cons of these. You may take any further relevant history you require, but do this briefly as the essential features have been provided above. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 078 can be found on page 424

Condition 079 Vaginal bleeding in a 23-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a hospital Emergency Department. Your next patient is a 23-year-old nuliiparous woman who has been trying to conceive, and believes she is pregnant. She has developed vaginal bleeding after eight weeks of amenorrhoea.


Take any further relevant history you require.

Ask the examiner about the findings you would look for on general and gynaecological examination and the results of any tests you would expect to be available at the time you are seeing the patient.

Advise the patient of the probable diagnosis and subsequent management you would institute, including any further investigations you would arrange.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 079 can be found on page 427







Condition 080 Cessation of periods in a 30-year-old woman on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your patient is a 30-year-old woman who is taking the oral contraceptive pill (OCP). She has come to see you in a general practice because she did not have a period following the last two courses of pills YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further focused history. • Ask the examiner about the findings you wish to elicit on general and gynaecological examination. • Advise the patient of the diagnosis and subsequent management (including any investigations you would arrange). The Performance Guidelines for Condition 080 can be found on page 430

Condition 081 Positive culture for Group B streptococci (GBS) at 36 weeks of gestation in a 26-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your next patient is a 26-year-old woman who is now at 37 weeks of gestation in her first pregnancy. You have been looking after her pregnancy in a shared care arrangement in a general practice setting. All has been normal, and at 36 weeks you ordered a vaginal and rectal swab for Group B streptococcal (GBS) testing. This test has shown GBS organisms were detected in the lower vagina. She has returned to receive the results and any implications if the test is positive. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Advise the patient of the results of the GBS test. • Advise her about the subsequent management you would advise There is no need for you to take any further history or to request any examination findings or investigation results from the examiner The Performance Guidelines for Condition 081 can be found on page 432



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 082 Vaginal bleeding after 8 weeks amenorrhoea in a woman with previous irregular cycles CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your patient is a 25-year-old married nulliparous woman who presents to you in a general practice with vaginal bleeding after eight weeks of amenorrhoea. Her cycles are often irregular with the periods occurring at intervals of 4-8 weeks.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further focused history. • Ask the examiner about the findings you wish to elicit on general and gynae- | cological/obstetric examination. • Advise the patient of the probable diagnosis and subsequent management, including any investigations you would arrange. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 082 can be found on page 434


2-F The Obstetric and Gynaecologic Consultation

2-F The Obstetric and Gynaecologic Consultation Performance Guidelines MCAT 078-082 78

Breech presentation in labour at 38 weeks in a 25-year-old woman


Vaginal bleeding in a 23-year-old woman


Cessation of periods in a 30-year-old woman on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP)


Positive culture for Group B streptococci (GBS) at 36 weeks of gestation in a 26-year-old woman


Vaginal bleeding after 8 weeks amenorrhoea in a woman with previous irregular cycles


078 Performance Guidelines

Condition 078 Breech presentation in labour at 38 weeks in a 25-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to appropriately advise a patient concerning the advantages and disadvantages of vaginal breech delivery or Caesarean section when the fetus is found to be presenting by the breech in early labour at 38 weeks of gestation. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Breech presentation has not previously been diagnosed and all your tests and progress have been normal, as was your previous pregnancy. Opening statement: 'So it is a breech, doctor. Does that cause any problems?' List of appropriate answers to questions by the candidate: •

Your desires in relation to mode of delivery are as follows: ~ You would prefer vaginal delivery if possible but would accept Caesarean section if this is recommended as necessary or very much more preferable. ~ You had no problems with delivery of the first baby at 41 weeks of gestation. Forceps delivery was not required. ~ Only a very small episiotomy was necessary, despite the baby weighing 4 kg. ~ Your antenatal course in this pregnancy has been normal. ~ There is no family history of diabetes or other problems.

Questions to ask if not already covered: •

'What are my options regarding delivery?'

'Are there any significant risks to the baby or me if I have my baby normally?'

‘What are the potential problems to the baby of vaginal delivery versus Caesarean section?'

Examination findings The candidate may ask for specific components of the examination, but no additional findings in addition to those outlined in the candidate's instructions need to be given. Investigation results None is to be provided or available.


078 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Advice to patient (the candidate should convey the substance of what follows to the patient): • Diagnosis - breech presentation in early labour. The type of breech presentation (extended legs) is a favourable one. and as she is keen to avoid a Caesarean section delivery, an attempt at vaginal breech delivery would be appropriate. • X-ray pelvimetry is unnecessary in view of the size of her previous baby (4000 g) which was born at 41 weeks of gestation. Although second babies are likely to be bigger than the first one. the current baby is being delivered three weeks earlier than the preceding one which means it should be smaller than the previous child • Cardiotocography (CTG) monitoring is necessary in association with breech presentation as there is an increased risk of cord prolapse associated with this abnormal presentation. Vaginal examination as soon as the membranes rupture, to exclude cord prolapse and confirm the type of breech presentation, is also mandatory. • As she is in labour, ultrasound examination will probably be difficult to arrange urgently Had the breech presentation been diagnosed prior to labour, ultrasound would have been of value to check fetal size, type of breech presentation, and whether the fetal neck was extended. • Caesarean section would be indicated if there was slow progress of labour, or if breech extraction was considered required to effect delivery because of fetal distress or inadequate progress, or a significant CTG abnormality occurred in the first stage of labour. • A successful outcome of labour can be anticipated with the findings which are evident in this patient. However about 3-5% of patients do have problems during the latter stages of delivery due to difficulty delivering the legs, arms or head. KEY ISSUES • Ability of the candidate to advise and counsel a patient of the current options in regard to breech delivery by vaginal or Caesarean delivery. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to advise of the appropriate risks of vaginal breech delivery • Recommending that external cephalic version should be attempted despite the fact she is in labour. • Indicating to the patient that vaginal breech delivery is absolutely contraindicated despite her desires. COMMENTARY Approximately 4% of all babies present by the breech, and vaginal delivery is safe in selected patients. This particularly applies where the baby is of normal size (between 2.5 and 4.0 kg); the breech presentation is a complete breech or a breech with extended legs: the fetal neck is not extended; where labour occurs spontaneously and progresses at the appropriate rate; and where the pelvic dimensions are normal.


078 Performance Guidelines

There are risks to the baby of vaginal delivery however, and the risks are higher than when the baby is delivered by Caesarean section. These aspects were well reported in the Term Breech Trial published in 2000. In this patient it would be appropriate to recommend a trial of vaginal delivery with appropriate monitoring. Caesarean section recommendation at this stage would be appropriate depending on the patient's responses and concerns after discussion. The recent trial of vaginal breech delivery as compared to Caesarean section delivery clearly showed the risk of vaginal delivery was higher than that associated with delivery by Caesarean section. Despite this, and the general recommendation that all babies presenting by the breech should be delivered by Caesarean section, some patients will still prefer a vaginal delivery. If the candidate suggests external cephalic version should be attempted at this time, when she is clearly in labour, this is contraindicated and clearly WRONG. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: •

Failure to advise of the actual care in labour which would be given.

Failure to advise that the risk of vaginal breech delivery is higher than that of delivery by Caesarean section with the risk being approximately doubled.


079 Performance Guidelines

Condition 079 Vaginal bleeding in a 23-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To determine the ability of the candidate to assess and appropriately manage a patient in early pregnancy with eight weeks of amenorrhoea which was then followed by vaginal bleeding. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient to reply to questions from the candidate as follows: • Your periods are usually regular and normal and your last menstrual period was eight weeks ago. You think and hope that you are pregnant; this is your first pregnancy. You checked via a chemist two weeks ago, and had a urine pregnancy test which was positive. • You and your husband have been trying to conceive since stopping the pill. • You ceased the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) five months ago, and have had regular menstrual cycles since then until recent amenorrhoea. • No bleeding since last menstrual period until yesterday. Light loss then. Total loss is much less than a normal period. Bleeding seems now to have stopped. • You have minimal pelvic discomfort. • Breasts sore and nipples tender for last six weeks — no reduction in these symptoms recently. • Blood group O Rh negative. Questions to ask if not already been covered: • 'Will my baby be OK?' • 'Can you give me something to make sure I don't lose this pregnancy?' • 'What will happen if I miscarry?' Physical examination findings to be given to the candidate on request General examination Pulse

80/min and regular.

Blood pressure

120/80 mmHg, not distressed

Pelvic examination

cervix closed and firm, no blood in vagina.


retroverted, enlarged to the size of an eight-week pregnancy.


no mass or tenderness

Previous investigation results to be given on request Pregnancy test

positive previously, confirmed on spot urine testing now.

Blood group

O, Rhesus negative


079 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Advice to Patient The substance of what follows should be communicated to the patient in lay terms. •

She needs an ultrasound of the pelvis to enable the pregnancy to be sited, to confirm the gestation, to check the sac size, liquor volume, and the presence or absence of fetal heart activity. These findings would be expected to confirm and define the diagnosis of threatened abortion (miscarriage). The candidate should ask for these investigations to be done and should explain to the patient that if everything was normal, the pregnancy was in the uterus, and the fetal heart activity was present, the diagnosis is a threatened miscarriage, with a good prospect of a continuing viable pregnancy.

Other investigations required: checking the haemoglobin and check indirect Coombs as patient is Rh negative. If indirect Coombs is negative, give anti-D if abortion occurs. (Anti-D is often not available in Australia for a threatened abortion).

Immediate Management •

Treat conservatively and rest. No specific therapy is effective in improving the pregnancy outcome.

Chance of successful outcome of pregnancy — prior to performance of the ultrasound the chance of success was only 50%. Providing the ultrasound examination is perfectly normal, the chance of a successful pregnancy is somewhere between 90% and 95%.


Ability to define the diagnoses needing to be considered in the presence of eight weeks of amenorrhoea.

Ability to appropriately investigate a woman with these symptoms.


Failure to confirm pregnancy by pregnancy testing

Failure to arrange ultrasound to check site and viability of pregnancy.

Failure to consider use of anti-D in view of Rhesus negative state.


079 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY In all cases of bleeding in early pregnancy, the most critical examination findings are those of uterine size, the state of the cervix and the presence or absence of pelvic tenderness. The reliance upon ultrasound examination alone is inappropriate. Ultrasound in this case will enable the viability of the pregnancy to be assessed, thus enabling the patient to be reassured with a degree of confidence. The other aspect of this case is the fact that the patient's blood group is O Rhesus negative. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • When taking the history, not being focused enough to the actual problem, but asking for information such as irrelevant past history, social history etc. This just takes time to do and reduces the time available for the remaining tasks. • Failure to examine the patient appropriately (cervical closure or opening status was not requested, uterine size was not asked for. possible signs suggesting an ectopic pregnancy were not asked for). • Failure of candidate to advise the patient of the likely prognosis for this pregnancy, following performance of the ultrasound examination and assuming confirmation of normal findings.


080 Performance Guidelines

Condition 080 Cessation of periods in a 30-year-old woman on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to take an appropriate history and to assess findings to define the cause of amenorrhoea developing while on the OCP, and then to appropriately counsel the patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient to reply to questions from the candidate as follows: •

You were married six years ago. You have been on the OCP since then. You will probably want to conceive in about two years time.

Your menarche was at 14 years of age. When not on the OCP, your cycles were 28 days long and you bled for three days, but lightly.

You have been on Microgynon 30® for six years. Initially the periods were normal, but they have become lighter and lighter. About six months ago the periods were only lasting for one day. Since then they have been shorter and lighter, and no period occurred at all at the end of the last two packs of pills. You have not missed any pills in the last six months (give the information of progressive reduction in menstrual loss only in response to specific request from the doctor).

No problems with sexual activity, usually active 3-4 times per week.

No recent nausea, vomiting, breast enlargement, or nipple discomfort (so nothing to suggest a pregnancy).

No relevant past, medical, surgical, family or social history You have never had a curettage.

Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'Does it matter if I don't have a period at the end of the pill month?'

'Will I be able to have a baby when I want to do so?' Examination findings given to the candidate on request: General and abdominal examination: normal


Speculum examination:


Pelvic vaginal examination:

uterus retroverted and of normal size and mobility



080 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should convey the substance of what follows to the patient: • The diagnosis is endometrial atrophy due to the progestogen component of the OCP M (Microgynon 30 ). • There is no real problem with the progestogen-induced secondary amenorrhoea except for the anxiety it produces in the patient about whether she is pregnant. When the oral contraceptive pill is ceased, all will return to normal, including her fertility. • A pregnancy is most unlikely but a p-hCG estimation should be done to confirm this for the patient. • If she is really worried about the amenorrhoea, the pill could be changed to either a higher-oestrogen-containing pill (such as Microgynon 50®), or a triphasic pill (Triquilar®), and the menstrual loss may increase. The other option would be for her to have a break from the oral contraceptive pill and use some other method of contraception. If the assessment of oestradiol, FSH, LH or prolactin levels is suggested, this would suggest little or no insight into the cause of the amenorrhoea or the effect of the OCP on these hormone test results. KEY ISSUES • Ability to diagnose the cause of amenorrhoea when on the OCP. • Ability to counsel the patient appropriately. CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to perform a pregnancy test (/J-hCG) to exclude the unlikely possibility of a pregnancy occurring whilst taking the OCP. COMMENTARY The reduction in the amount of of withdrawal bleeding whilst a patient is on the oral contraceptive pill is not uncommon. The cause is due to a progressive endometrial atrophy (progestogen -induced) over the period of time the patient is taking the pill. The key to the situation is generally the history of gradual reduction of menstrual flow over a period of time prior to the complete cessation of withdrawal bleeding. Whilst the likelihood of pregnancy is very low, a pregnancy test is appropriate to reassure the patient — as conception is possible whilst a patient is taking the oral contraceptive pill. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • Inadequate history concerning the progressive reduction in the menstrual loss whilst on the OCP. • Inadequate advice concerning the natural history of this symptom after cessation of the OCP.


081 Performance Guidelines

Condition 081 Positive culture for Group B streptococci (GBS) at 36 weeks of gestation in a 26-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the ability of the candidate to counsel a patient concerning the significance of the finding of vaginal GBS organisms late in pregnancy and the subsequent management required. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You will be advised of the results of the recent GBS screening and what the doctor advises in regard to treatment. You have no history of allergies to penicillin. Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'What are these GBS organisms?'

'Why are these bugs there?'

'Will these bugs do any harm?'

'Why don't you just give me antibiotics now and get rid of them?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should convey the substance of what follows to the patient: •

The significance of GBS organisms in the vagina is: ~ the organism will not usually produce a problem for the mother, and 10-15% of pregnant women may carry this organism, at this stage of the pregnancy; ~ the risk of the baby being colonised is 40-50%, if mother is GBS positive, and delivers vaginally, and is not given antibiotics in labour; ~ the risk of the baby becoming 'infected' under the above circumstances is 1% but this infection can be very severe; ~ by the time the neonatal diagnosis is able to be made clinically in the infant, it may be too late to treat effectively and mortality is high; and ~ the important principle is therefore to prevent the baby getting infected.

GBS cannot be eradicated from the vagina with certainty by treating with penicillin or amoxycillin during pregnancy.

Having found that she is GBS positive, it becomes important to treat the mother in labour, to prevent fetal infection. Although a low risk situation, consensus best practice is to treat all GBS positive patients during labour. Treatment with parenteral penicillin should be commenced in labour or if membranes rupture prior to onset of labour. The antibiotic crosses the placenta and protects the baby. It is extremely unlikely that the baby will become infected under such a regimen.

Some obstetric units only give antibiotics to 'high risk' patients in labour, such as those in premature labour, those with premature rupture of the membranes, or where there is a maternal fever. Candidates should be aware that such a management protocol does however put about 0.5% of babies at significant risk where the mother is GBS positive.


081 Performance Guidelines

• If allergic to penicillin, use erythromycin. • Parenteral penicillin to the baby after birth is optional unless signs of infection ensue or in high risk situations (such as prolonged ruptured membranes). KEY ISSUES • Defining the management plan. • Counselling the patient as to why antibiotic treatment in labour is recommended. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to advise patient of the significance of GBS organisms to mother and her baby. • Failure to advise antibiotic treatment of the pregnant woman if the membranes rupture, or when labour commences, to protect the fetus from the risk of severe infection. COMMENTARY This case illustrates the now almost universal practice of routinely screening all pregnant women at 34-36 weeks gestation for the presence of GBS colonisation of the vagina. It is important to know that approximately 10-15% of pregnant women will be colonised with Group B streptococcus organisms at this stage. The critical aspect of the management of this situation is that antibiotics are given to the mother only when she presents in labour and not at any time during the pregnancy when the colonisation is discovered. It is important to counsel the mother that colonisation with this organism poses tittle, if any, risk to the mother but may affect the baby. It is important to stress the serious significance of Group B streptococcal infection in the neonate. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • Recommending administration of antibiotics during pregnancy (antenatally) and assuming that such treatment would eradicate the GBS organism. • Believing that treatment of an infected baby is so effective, that prophylactic antibiotic therapy to the mother in labour is unnecessary. • Believing antibiotic treatment of the mother is necessary now because of the adverse effects GBS organisms will have on her.


082 Performance Guidelines

Condition 082 Vaginal bleeding after 8 weeks amenorrhoea in a woman with previous irregular cycles AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to appreciate the significance of vaginal bleeding in a woman with irregular cycles where early pregnancy is a possibility.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient to reply to questions from the candidate as follows: •

You are a 25-year-old married woman without previous significant illness.

Your last menstrual period was eight weeks ago and was normal. Your periods are often irregular with cycles varying between four and eight weeks duration.

You do not usually identify midcycle mucus to recognise the time of ovulation. You have noticed some breast discomfort and nausea recently.

The current bleeding is minimal and bright in colour. It commenced yesterday spontaneously and is like day two of the period. No tissue has been passed. The bleeding was not related to any sexual activity.

No abdominal or pelvic pain has been associated with the bleeding.

You use condoms for contraception. You would not mind if you were pregnant although you were not planning to become pregnant for another couple of years. No previous pregnancies.

No past medical or surgical history of relevance. No medications.

Last Pap smear was six months ago and was normal. You have never had an abnormal smear test.

Your blood group is O Rh positive.

Questions to ask unless already covered: •

‘Do you think I'm pregnant?'

'If I am pregnant, why am I bleeding? Will the baby be OK?'

‘Is there any treatment to stop the bleeding?'

Examination findings to be given to candidate on request Patient looks well but is overweight (90 kg) Blood pressure

120/80 mmHg



Abdominal examination

no mass or viscus palpable, no tenderness


cervix closed and normal; some minimal blood loss

Pelvic vaginal examination

uterus is not obviously enlarged, and is retroverted



normal, no tenderness

082 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The history needs to define the normal cycle regularity and length, enquire about pain, and enquire about symptoms suggestive of pregnancy. The candidate should advise along the following lines: • The diagnosis is unclear from the history and examination. Investigations will need to be done to confirm or exclude pregnancy and then define whether the pregnancy, if present, is progressing satisfactorily. An appropriate plan of investigations would be: • β-hCG to check if pregnant. • If β -hCG is negative, the diagnosis is just a late period, therefore observe. If periods remain irregular, hormonal tests to see if fertility treatment is required may subsequently need to be considered (such as FSH, LH, PRL, TFTs). • If β -hCG is positive, check β -hCG level to assess usefulness of ultrasound examination. • If β -hCG is positive and greater than 1000 U/L, she needs an ultrasound to check the site and normality of the pregnancy, and the gestation and due date. • When all of these results are known it will be necessary to review her. The prognosis regarding the pregnancy can be discussed when it is known what the results are. • If she is pregnant, the diagnosis is probably a threatened miscarriage, and no hormonal therapy is likely to be of value. KEY ISSUES • Ability to evaluate a patient with bleeding after amenorrhoea. • Ability to confirm or exclude pregnancy as a cause. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to consider non-pregnancy as well as pregnancy causes. • Failure to arrange ultrasound if pregnant and β -hCG is greater than 1000 U/L. COMMENTARY This is a situation where bleeding occurs some eight weeks after a previous period but where the patient often has an irregular cycle when amenorrhoea may last up to eight weeks. It is therefore important to differentiate whether this woman could be pregnant, or whether she simply is having one of her longer, irregular menstrual cycles. Therefore, symptoms suggesting pregnancy, and tests for pregnancy, must be discussed in the management of this case. It is also important to remember that where pregnancy is proven not to exist, further investigations for the irregular menstrual cycles should be considered. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • Failure to take an adequate history to define the previous menstrual cycle frequency and to check for symptoms of pregnancy. • Failure to describe appropriate management and investigative plans. • Failure to advise appropriate endocrine tests if she is found to be not pregnant and the irregular cycles persist.


2-G: The Psychiatric Consultation Frank P Hume 'The care of the human mind is the most noble branch of medicine.' Aloysius Sieffert (c. 1858) A psychiatric assessment is a structured clinical conversation, complemented by observation and mental state examination and supplemented by a physical examination and the interview of other informants when appropriate. After the initial interview, the clinician should be able to establish whether the individual has a mental health problem or not, the nature of the problem and a plan for the most suitable treatment. A thorough initial assessment may take an hour or more to complete, but when time is short it may be necessary to focus on the immediate problems at first and schedule a longer followup appointment to round off the evaluation. In the context of the AMC assessment, with the time constraints imposed, the tasks are split and focused to allow completion in the time period allowed. For trust and rapport to develop, the clinician must display tact, empathy and genuine respect for the individual's dignity throughout the interview. A private setting is crucial with comfortable seating and ambience and freedom from interruptions. Confidentiality is central, given the personal and intimate nature of the material to be talked about, but it is not absolute when the safety and interests of the patient or others are at issue, or in medicolegal consultations. Comprehensive and contemporaneous case notes are essential. Whenever possible, notes should be taken during the interview rather than relying on recall afterwards. However note-taking should be delayed at the outset until the patient feels that he or she has the clinician's attention. If the patient is highly anxious, agitated, hostile or paranoid it maybe sensible to defer note-taking until after the interview and limit the amount of factual information at the first interview. Clinicians should begin by welcoming patients by name, introducing themselves if unknown, greeting companions if the patient is accompanied and explaining how long they may have to wait and whether they will be interviewed. It is usual to interview the patient alone first and other informants afterwards, with the patient's consent. Let the patient know from the outset how long the interview is likely to take and that you will be taking notes at some stage (which are confidential) Begin with basic census data: contact details, education, occupation and languages spoken. If the interview is to be conducted in a language other than English, then a trained health service interpreter should be used rather than an accompanying relative or friend, depending on the sensitivity and intimacy of the information to be gathered. Experienced interpreters will repeat patient's replies word for word, even if they are obviously delusional or thought-disordered, whereas well-meaning relatives may paraphrase or substitute replies to compensate for confused or disordered responses. When using an interpreter, direct your attention and your enquiries to the patient and not the interpreter. The interview should commence with the history of the presenting complaint by asking an open-ended question such as 'please tell me about your problems in your own words'. The patient should then be allowed to talk spontaneously and without interruption for several minutes, with the clinician maintaining appropriate eye contact, paying attention to the factual content whilst simultaneously monitoring the patient's verbal and nonverbal behaviour. Encouraging the patients to 'go on' or 'tell me more are simple strategies to put them at ease, as are nodding, leaning forwards, expressing concern or repeating key


2-G The Psychiatric Consultation

phrases, for example, ' s o y o u r s l e e p p r o b l e m h a s b e e n g e t t i n g w o r s e ? ' Avoid using specialised language: for example, anorexia, insomnia, anhedonia. Comments which make patients realise that they are being listened to and understood will increase their confidence and deepen rapport. As the interview unfolds, then more directive questions aimed at clarifying symptoms and their evolution are used, asking for more specific examples of symptoms or experiences Interviewing is an active and dynamic process: initial hypotheses or rough ideas are modified continuously as more information is collected. When there is time pressure or urgency to make treatment or admission decisions, then the clinician may need to be more active or directive from the beginning and use more closed questions (requiring just 'yes' or 'no' answers) Good clinicians should be able to: • put an anxious patient at ease; • gain sufficient trust to encourage an unwilling or suspicious patient to discuss relevant issues by displaying tact, patience and encouragement: • be comfortable, tolerant and empathie when a patient becomes tearful during the interview; • know how to set limits if patients become angry, hostile or abusive; • recognise and respect patient-clinician boundaries especially with dependent, disinhibited, overfamiliar or adulatory patients; • politely interject and refocus garrulous patients, explaining that because of time restraints it may be necessary to break into their flow of conversation from time to time to concentrate on the points that are important for planning treatment: • rapidly identify patients who are demented, disorganised, disorientated, intoxicated, grossly psychotic or dysphasic and for whom other informants will be imperative; and • become aware of and monitor their own countertransference responses to particular patients. By being aware of your own prejudices, weaknesses, blind spots and personal vulnerabilities, and recognising when patients arouse strong feelings of anger, boredom sexual excitement or ' r e s c u e ' fantasies in you, you are accordingly less likely to react inappropriately to them A psychiatric assessment differs from other medical interviews in that more attention needs to be paid to the patient's psychological and social influences. Accordingly, patients' cultural and spiritual backgrounds, formative influences, important relationships, significant life events and their reactions to them; their attitudes, values and beliefs about themselves, other people and the world may all be explored in the course of an assessment. A vertical time line can be used to summarise key events in a person's life from what follows (which is not comprehensive). After the history of the present complaint has been established, then the family history should be reviewed with a family tree or genogram developed as far back as the grandparents. The quality of the relationship of each family member with the patient and its stability over time, parental occupations, family status and atmosphere, familial diseases and illnesses, family psychiatric disorders (and treatment) should all be recorded.



The Psychiatric Consultation

The patient's personal history may begin with conception, but there may have already been significant family or parental events that have occurred that will influence their development and shape their destiny (e.g. the prior death of siblings, maternal rape, incest, immigration, domestic violence, IVF, the Holocaust). • •

Maternal pregnancy and birth: abnormalities, early development and nutrition, milestones. Childhood milieu: separations, illnesses and hospitalisations: anxiety traits and behavioural problems; education and schooling, learning difficulties, experience of bullying, examination success and age of leaving school.

Adolescent pressures: puberty, peer groups, rebelliousness, drug and alcohol taking, fantasy life, psychosexual identity and dysphoria, diet and exercise.

Occupational history in chronological order: training, competence, satisfaction, ambition, experience in armed forces or war.

Marital history: length of courtship; age, occupation and personality of partner: quality and stability of relationship, fidelity, previous relationships, divorce, separations, violence or abuse.

Psychosexual development from childhood: sexual orientation, sexual dysfunction, deviations or fetishes, satisfaction, current libido, contraception.

Children: stillbirths, miscarriages, terminations, childhood deaths, age, sex, health and temper tantrums of the surviving children, attitudes to children and further pregnancies.

Past medical history: should include significant childhood illnesses which may have affected brain development or function; operations, hospitalisations, accidents; menstrual or menopausal symptoms and chronic physical illnesses including fatigue, eating disorders, obesity, neurological disorders, head injury. Previous mental health: includes self-harm, mood disorder, anxiety symptoms, somatic concerns, behaviour disorders and insomnia, with details about treatment or not; duration and severity of symptoms and periods of hospitalisation and outcome.

Use and abuse of drugs and alcohol: includes tobacco, caffeine, cannabis, stimulants, sedatives, analgesics or narcotics and whether prescribed or not; and the chronological history of use and the quantities involved and patterns of usage over time, attempts to give up and their effects on health, relationships, work and finances. Gambling history should also be explored.

Forensic history: includes delinquency, arrests, convictions, imprisonment, probation and any history of violence, assault or property damage including fire setting and arson.

Current life situation: involves a description of family, housing, social, work and financial circumstances. Relationships with neighbours, peers and colleagues, friends and relatives, employers and superiors. Recent life stresses, bereavement, losses, disappointments, promotions and the patient's reaction to them.

Personality refers to the habitual attitudes, behaviours and physical characteristics that define a person as an individual to oneself and others. Psychiatric disorders may change a person's personality, thus other informants, as well as the patient, can help to describe the following: •

Attitudes to others: in social, family, work and sexual relationships.

Attitudes to self: e.g. vain, critical, self-conscious, realistic, self-critical.

Moral and religious attitudes: e.g. rigid, permissive, and rebellious.

Predominant mood: and whether stable or changing.


2-G The Psychiatric Consultation

• Leisure activities: hobbies and interests; creative, physical, solo or team. • Fantasy life: includes daydreams and nightmares. • Resilience: in the face of adversity. It is neither essential nor desirable to enquire exhaustively about all of the above with each patient. Common sense and experience should inform the clinician about what is relevant to each patient as a picture emerges during the interview. In structured assessments at undergraduate level, scenarios must be selective and focused with clear aims and guidelines, to enable appropriate candidate assessment over a brief eight minute doctor-patient encounter. MENTAL STATE EXAMINATION

Mental state examination is a History-taking deals with the past while mental state systematic review of the examination is a systematic review of the patient's present patient's present symptoms symptoms and observed behaviour during the interview. It is a and observed behaviour cross-sectional view of the patient and is one of the essential during the interview. It is a elements of psychiatric practice. The principles of the mental cross-sectional view of the state assessment can readily be incorporated into the patient and is one of the examination of any patient. essential elements of Recording mental state begins with: Appearance and behaviour

psychiatric practice. The principles of the mental state assessment can readily be A comprehensive, accurate and lifelike word-picture of how the patient looks in terms of appearance, body size, incorporated into the grooming, dress, posture, movement and facial expressiveness. Behaviour refers to cooperation, body language and gestures, psychomotor function and general activity and social relatedness during the interview. Orientation, mood, anxiety, hallucinations and medication may all influence appearance and behaviour. Speech The rate, volume, quality, quantity and tone of speech are recorded. Dysarthria or dysphasia are noted. The form of the patient's talk is considered rather than the content: spontaneity, pressure, slowness, hesitancy, coherence, looseness, response latency unusual sentence construction e.g. Yoda the Jedi in Star Wars, neologisms (made up words), repetitions and distractibility. Mood and affect Mood refers to a person's usual or longterm feeling state. Affect is a more short-term and immediate feeling state and refers to what is observed by the clinician during the interview. ‘Mood is to affect as climate is to weather’. Clues to mood assessment arise from the patient's appearance, mobility, posture and behaviour. Patients could be asked How do you feel in yourself?' or 'What is your mood like?' or ‘How about your spirits?' To assess depression ask about unhappiness, sadness, tearfulness, pessimism about the present, shame or guilt about the past and hopelessness about the future.



The Psychiatric Consultation

To assess suicidal ideation, begin with the first question, and then progress tactfully: 'Have you ever felt so bad/desperate that you have wanted to end it all?' 'Have you ever thought of harming/or actually harmed... yourself?' 'Do you feel unsafe at the moment?' 'Do you feel desperate enough to kill yourself?’ ' Do you think you are suicidal?’ 'Do you have a 'Plan B'?' Asking about suicidal ideation or plans does not make patients suicidal, nor does it put the idea into their heads. Patients who are depressed and suicidal may be alarmed and frightened by their thoughts and are relieved that someone cares enough to ask what they may be thinking about. Most suicidal patients do not want to kill themselves and find the thoughts repugnant, but may feel it is the only solution to their anguish. Some genuinely suicidal patients may deny being suicidal when asked, because they are determined to succeed and do not wish to be thwarted or prevented from doing so. To assess elation or hypomania ask 'Do you ever/often feel in unusually good spirits?' 'Do you ever/often feel on top of the world or full of energy?' 'Do you ever/often get racing thoughts?' 'Do you ever/often go on uncontrolled spending sprees that leave you in debt?’ 'Do you often feel unusually confident, inventive, fabulous or famous?' Other mood states that may be specifically enquired about include anxiety, anger, irritability, envy, suspiciousness and perplexity. The range of mood should be described as normal, increased, labile, restricted or blunted. Also note whether it is constant or stable. Appropriateness of affect means that the current emotional expression matches what is being said at the time. Depersonalisation and derealisation experiences are difficult for patients to describe. They may describe feeling unreal or detached, emotionless and numb, or as //'they are acting a part or being like a robot. Alternatively they may describe their environment as colourless, lifeless, artificial or cartoon-like. The feelings may vary from mild to severe, but are always seen as alien, unwanted and unpleasant. All or any part of the body may be involved and the feelings may be intermittent or persistent. They are usually accompanied by anxiety and/or depression. Thought form Abnormalities of thought can only be inferred from what patients say or write and may be influenced by mood or psychosis. Depressed patients may have slowed speech with no rhythm or cadence and only give limited or monosyllabic replies after a pause and with a limited range of topics or themes. Manic patients speak very rapidly and their train of thought may shift repeatedly (flight of ideas). They may be difficult to interrupt and their flight of ideas may be triggered by a pun or a clang association — where the sound of a word is rhymed with another word midsentence to produce a different set of ideas. Loosening of associations is the classic formal thought disorder of schizophrenia. A patient may say a lot but it is impossible to grasp the meaning of what is being said. Attempts to clarify with followup questions often only deepen the puzzle, because there is a loss of the normal clarity and structure of thinking. Examples of disorganised speech should be recorded verbatim.



The Psychiatric Consultation

Circumstantiality infers a lengthy and garrulous response to a question, often to the extent that the patient forgets what the question was. Obsessional patients may be anxious not to leave any doubt about their replies and qualify and exhaustively explore every detail and nuance before they get to the point. Tangentiality is an oblique or irrelevant response to a straightforward question. Concrete thinking is a literal and restricted response to a basic question, for example, 'How are you feeling today?'.................' With my fingers and toes, as usual! ' ........................... or1 You 're the doctor. you tell me!' Thought content A delusion is a false belief which is out of keeping with an individuals educational, cultural, religious and social background which is held with extraordinary and unshakeable conviction and absolute certainty. Subjectively, it is indistinguishable from a true belief and it is not influenced by rational argument or evidence to the contrary. A delusion may arise spontaneously (out of the blue), or be a secondary response to a patient's mood hallucinatory experiences or false memories. Paranoid (persecutory) delusions are the most common. Grandiose, guilty, nihilistic, jealousy, religious, hypochondriacal, sexual, control, and referential delusions also occur. Specific delusions about one's thoughts, involving either thought insertion, withdrawal or broadcasting are pathognomonic of schizophrenia. An overvalued idea is usually a solitary abnormal belief which dominates a patient's life and causes disturbed functioning and suffering to the person or others. The patient's whole life may revolve around this one idea (e.g. anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, transsexualism), and cause irreparable harm to significant relationships in the patient's life. Obsessions are recurrent, intrusive, irrational thoughts, impulses or images that persist despite efforts to exclude or resist them. They are recognised as being self-generated and nonsensical and usually deal with issues that the patient finds disturbing or unpleasant (e.g. dirt, germs, violence, sex, illness or religion). Perception Perception is the process of integrating input either from the sense organs or from imagery and fantasy (which are self-generated). It is influenced by mood: mania heightens perception, particularly of colours; anxiety may intensify sound; depression mutes sound and dulls colour. Schizophrenia may affect olfaction and taste. An illusion is the misinterpretation of a real stimulus and is more likely to occur when attention and concentration are unfocused, or when anxiety is high. Hallucinations are false perceptions in the absence of a stimulus. They have the full force and impact of a real perception and occur spontaneously and cannot be controlled or terminated by self-will. To patients, hallucinations are normal sensory experiences. They may be simple: experience of bangs, rattles, whistles or flashes of light: or complex: hearing voices, music, faces, animals or scenes. Auditory hallucinations are characteristic of schizophrenia, but can also occur in alcoholism, amphetamine psychosis and affective disorder. Voices in schizophrenia may be single or multiple; whisper or shout or speak in normal conversational tone: give a running commentary on the patient's behaviour; argue with each other or appear to speak or echo the patient's thoughts out loud. Usually the patient is referred to in the third person (he or she), but occasionally commands and orders are given in the second person (you).



The Psychiatric Consultation

In organic disorders and depressive states when voices are heard they may adopt an abusive or critical tone and use the second person or simple words or brief sentences. Auditory hallucinations may occur in normal individuals under stress (e.g. sensory deprivation, bereavement) and when falling asleep or on waking up. Blind or deaf people may hallucinate images or sounds. Visual hallucinations usually signify organic illness and are uncommon in schizophrenia. Substance abuse (hallucinogens, glue, alcohol), neurological disorders affecting the visual pathways or the occipital lobe, postconcussional states, temporal lobe epilepsy and various forms of dementia may cause visual hallucinations. Tactile, haptic (touch-related) or somatic hallucinations may occur in acute psychosis and often have a bizarre complexity. Perceptions of heat, touch, water dripping (or blood or bodily fluids); visceral sensations of severe pain caused by 'knives' or 'demons': or of formication (the sensation of ants or insects crawling on or under the skin), have all been described. They may be more indicative of benzodiazepine, cocaine or alcohol withdrawal. Olfactory and gustatory hallucinations are rare, usually occur together and although they may occur in schizophrenia or depressive disorders, are more likely due to temporal lobe phenomena or neurological lesions of the olfactory pathways. Cognition Cognitive function should be assessed briefly in every patient and interpreted in relationship to age, education and intelligence. Orientation, attention, concentration and short-term, recent and remote memory should be tested. If impairment is suspected or revealed, then a more structured and objective review of cognitive functioning, such as the Mini-Mental State Examination, should be performed. Insight Insight refers to the self-awareness of morbid experiences (symptoms), and their effect on personal functioning and relationships. It also encompasses attitudes to assessment, mental disorder and treatment. Insight is not simply present or absent, but depends on the degree to which patients acknowledge, or are aware of. phenomena that other people (including the clinician) have drawn to their attention. Insight depends next on the degree to which patients recognise that the phenomena are abnormal, or may have a psychological or psychiatric cause, and finally whether patients are willing to have treatment or be hospitalised. In psychotic disorders, insight is usually absent or partial at best. Rapport Rapport refers to the degree of relatedness between the patient and the clinician during the interview and is a measure of the quality of the communication and trust achieved. Difficulty in establishing rapport may be symptomatic of the patient's illness or the clinician's countertransference and lack of empathy. Rapport predicts whether a patient will engage in and continue treatment. Risk Depending on the circumstances, the clinician's assessment of the patient's suicidalityand risk of violence to others should be noted and then acted upon, if appropriate. Reliability Whenever there is any doubt about the veracity of the patient's account of symptoms or behaviour change and other autobiographical details, other informants should be interviewed



The Psychiatric Consultation

to corroborate the history. This applies particularly to patients who are cognitively impaired, disorganised, intoxicated, significantly thought-disordered or affectively distressed. THE MINI-MENTAL STATE EXAMINATION (MMSE) The MMSE was developed by Marshal Folstein and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Since its publication in 1975 it has become the most commonly used instrument for bedside cognitive function screening. Its purpose is not to make a diagnosis, but to indicate the presence of cognitive impairment due to delirium, dementia or head injury. It is brief, easily administered, has high inter-rater reliability and may be used to monitor progress or fluctuations in these disorders. The thirty items in the MMSE measure orientation, attention, registration (immediate memory), recall (short-term memory), language and visuo-spatial function Performance in the MMSE is affected by age; years of education; socioeconomic status; ethnicity and whether English is the first or second language. Better educated people may score well on the test despite having significant cognitive impairment. Scores of 25-30 out of 30 are considered normal; 18-24 indicate mild to moderate impairment and scores of 17 or less indicate severe impairment. Once patients reach the more advanced stages of disease or dementia, their scores are so low that progression cannot be assessed. The MMSE was developed primarily to quantify cognitive functioning in elderly patients with delirium and dementia and may not be reliable in every patient in all situations. It may be useless at detecting focal cerebral lesions (aphasia, amnesia), right hemisphere disorders and frontal lobe deficits. It is essential to consider the performance profile of the subsets of the test as well as the overall score. Patients with Alzheimer disease may perform worst on recall, orientation and drawing, whereas subcortical dementias may primarily affect attention and concentration. The MMSE may be supplemented by specifically testing frontal lobe functioning via • verbal fluency tests: for example, naming as many words as possible in one minute starting with the letter F, then the letter A, then S. Normal is 15 words per letter or 30 words in total for the three. Once again allowance must be made for age, education, ethnicity and command of English. Alternatively ask for as many examples as possible from semantic categories: such as animals, fruit or vegetables in one minute (10 or less abnormal); or list as many items as possible that can be bought in a supermarket (15 or less is abnormal); • The interpretation of proverbs or sayings: for example, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush', 'a stitch in time saves nine] • similarities and differences: e.g. apple and banana, table and chair, child and dwarf, ice and glass: and • motor sequencing tests: either rapidly alternating hand movements or the Luria three-step hand movements: fist-edge-palm; are all easily incorporated adjuncts to a more comprehensive screen of frontal lobe function. Patients with frontal lobe dysfunction score poorly, perseverate and become disorganised under the time pressure of these simple tests. Frank P Hume



The Psychiatric Consultation

MINI-MENTAL STATUS EXAMINATION (MMSE) 1 Date of Examination: Name: Sex:

Date of Birth:


Occupation (previous): Educational Level: General Remarks Hearing: Vision: Record exact replies. Enter the scores out of the maximum shown. No half marks awarded. 1. Orientation What is the

Year? Season? Date? Month'? Day of the week7

Where are we


State City Suburb Hospital Floor (if at home, the street number and name)

2. Registration Name three objects, taking one second to say each, then ask the patient to repeat them. e.g. Apple



Repeat them until the patient learns all three. Ask patient to remember them Number of trials required to learn the answers 3. Attention/Concentration (a)

Serial Sevens (take 7 serially from 100 -» 93; 86; 79; stop after five answers): deduct one mark per error Or


Spell WORLD backwards (e.g. dlrow = 5, drolw = 3)

4. Recall Ask the patient to name the three objects in Question 2

1Adapted from Folstein M.. Folstein S. and McHugh P.. 1975. J. Psychiatric Research 12 pp 189-198.


5. Language (a)

Ask the patient to name the following as you point: 'pen'.... 'watch


Have the patient repeat: 'No its. ands, or buts


Have the patient follow a three stage command:

/2 /1



Take this paper in your right hand. Fold the paper in half. Put the paper down in your lap'.


Have the patient read and obey the following: CLOSE YOUR EYES



Have the patient write a sentence (containing subject, verb, object)


6. Construction Ask the patient to copy this design /1

Score = /30



The Psychiatric Consultation


The Psychiatric Consultation Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 083-089


Medication changes for a 35-year-old woman with chronic schizophrenia


Demand for urgent treatment for 'sudden hair loss' from a 29-year-old man


Poor work performance in a 30-year-old female police officer


Lifestyle stress in a 45-year-old man


Binge drinking in a 25-year-old man


Nausea, headache and feeling 'jittery' in a 30-year-old bank clerk


Collapse of a 30-year-old woman on the way to a court attendance



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 083 Medication changes for a 35-year-old woman with chronic schizophrenia CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. A longterm patient of the practice has attended for a repeat prescription of thioridazine (Melleril®). The patient is a 35-year-old woman who has been receiving thioridazine 200 mg daily for chronic schizophrenia over the past 15 years. Due to recent adverse publicity and concern about the effects of longterm thioridazine on cardiac conductivity (as reflected in a prolongation of the corrected QT interval on the ECG), you wish to change her to a newer atypical antipsychotic. Before doing so, you will need to discuss with her the risks and benefits of her current treatment and the risks and benefits of the commonly available atypical antipsychotics. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Explain your concerns about continuing on thioridazine. • Educate the patient about the risks and benefits of the newer atypical antipsychotics. • Explain the side effects of the most common atypical antipsychotics. • Respond appropriately to the patient's questions. There is no need for you to take any further history from the patient. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 083 can be found on page 456



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 084 Demand for urgent treatment for 'sudden hair loss' from a 29-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are the duty Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) in a busy city hospital clinic attached to the Emergency Department. It is early evening. The patient you are about to see is a neatly dressed, well-groomed 29-year-old man who has brought an envelope containing some hair strands to the front desk, asking if they can be 'examined under a microscope'. He appeared to be guite anxious and restless whilst waiting to be seen by you and the triage nurse has told you that he has visited the toilet facilities for lengthy periods of time on several occasions. The triage assessment states that he is worried that he is suddenly going bald because he has begun to lose his hair. He has brought some of his hair to the hospital to be examined to find out what the problem is and have treatment urgently' because he believes that his hair loss is affecting his 'prospects for promotion at work'. He is single and lives at home with his parents. He has worked as a financial analyst in a merchant bank for the past six years. He admits to not having any social life and is a nonsmoker and nondrinker. He appears to have a normal full head of hair as illustrated below. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Establish rapport.

Take a sensitive, focused and relevant history.

Reach a diagnostic conclusion, and discuss this with the patient.

Discuss management briefly with the examiner.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 084 can be found on page 459



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 085 Poor work performance in a 30-year-old female police officer CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. The patient is a 30-year-old Police Officer who has been advised to seek medical help by the human services officer (staff counsellor), for the State Police Service. The Police Service has become concerned that she does not appear to be functioning 1 as well in the workplace. She has been having an increasing number of sick days, which are often on the first day of a new set of rostered shifts.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a focused history — you have six minutes to do this. • Inform the examiner of the three most likely diagnoses. • Answer questions from the examiner about one or more of these diagnoses The Performance Guidelines for Condition 085 can be found on page 463



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 086 Lifestyle stress in a 45-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. The patient has come to see you after having insurance medical examinations at work. It was recommended that he see a general practitioner, to monitor his general health, and that he may be 'just stressed'. He did not really think of being a 'stress type' before now, and has no symptoms except for headaches towards the end of the day. Other family members attend your practice, but this patient has not previously consulted you. The patient has been told that cholesterol, blood sugar, and resting ECG are normal, but on two occasions in the last month when tested by the insurance doctor, the BP reading was high (160/80 mmHg) but eventually settled to normal levels. On those days, the patient had come from particularly difficult meetings. The patient is upset by these findings, believing that he has always been in perfect health. The insurance doctor said 'there was nothing to be concerned about really', but now he is worrying about having a heart attack and can't get that out of mind over the past couple of nights. This worry has been reinforced by several episodes of stabbing chest pain each lasting only a few seconds, unrelated to exertion. Last night he took a sleeping tablet, normally only used on long plane trips, to get some sleep, and feels much better now—the patient is now thinking he may have been suffering from stress over the past couple of years. You have obtained the information as listed below in the patient profile, and you have just completed examining the patient, including performing an ECG. No abnormality has been found. Blood pressure today is 130/70 mmHg. Patient profile Marital status Household Occupation Smoking habits Alcohol use Drug sensitivities Family history

Married, wife an artist Wife, three teenage children Finance Manager 3-5 cigarettes daily two whiskies/sherries most nights Not known Eldest of five siblings, all alive and well. Father died aged 65 of a heart attack; mother alive and well, although a worrier

Past medical history Major continuing health problems Current medication

No serious illnesses or operations


None known None


Candidate Information and Tasks

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Discuss his health condition and relevant matters with the patient. • Advise the patient of your diagnosis and proposed management. • Answer any questions the patient asks you. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 086 can be found on page 466


087 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 087 Binge drinking in a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. This patient is well known to you. He is a 25-year-old sole parent of a six-year-old girl — the mother left soon after the girl's birth and there has been no contact since. The patient works full time as a local delivery truck driver. •

He regularly drinks heavily at the weekends.

• •

He intermittently presents on Monday 'feeling seedy' requesting a certificate for the day off. He is otherwise in good health, but has had frequent presentations for minor sporting injuries.

He is not taking any medication; smokes 10 cigarettes per day; there is no other drug history.

He does not have any history of psychiatric illness.

• •

He is generally a good and caring parent — he has no other regular help with child-care. His relationship with his family is strained — they blame him for his wife leaving.

His father was a violent, heavy drinker during the patient's childhood, and still drinks, but not to excess.

The patient came to the practice today for the removal of sutures to a small scalp laceration, well-healed, sustained eight days ago in a fall at the pub after the football. He was briefly unconscious. He was taken, intoxicated to the Emergency Department of the local hospital at 1:00 am eight days ago, the wound was repaired and he was discharged several hours later. Your nurse has just removed the sutures. She has alerted you to discuss the patient's drinking and parental responsibilities. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Discuss with this patient his pattern of drinking and its harmful consequences.

Make appropriate recommendations for dealing with the problem.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 087 can be found on page 470



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 088 Nausea, headache and feeling 'jittery' in a 30-year-old bank clerk CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your next patient is a 30-year-old bank clerk, who is consulting you in the Emergency Department of a general hospital. She is complaining of severe nausea, headaches and the 'jitters'. She attended here two days ago. Brief notes in the Emergency Department patient record state that she was then complaining of back pain which was diagnosed as 'muscle pain'. The notes also state that she had been taking the selective-serotonin-release-inhibitor (SSRI) Prozac® (fluoxetine) 20 mg daily for depression for three weeks on the advice of her local doctor, without much improvement. An alternative SSRI —Zoloft® (sertraline) 100 mg daily was prescribed when she attended the Emergency Department. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further focused history related to this situation. • Ask the examiner for the appropriate examination findings you require to assist in diagnosis. • Inform the examiner of your diagnosis. • Counsel the patient about the likely cause of her symptoms, their treatment, and what you recommend with regard to further management of her depression. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 088 can be found on page 474


089 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 089 Collapse of a 30-year-old woman on the way to a court attendance CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This patient was brought to the Emergency Department complaining of a sudden inability to walk. She had collapsed on the way to court where her husband was due to appear on fraud charges. The charges related to embezzlement to cover the husband's gambling debts. She is a 30-year-old housewife who was fully active yesterday and carrying out her everyday life up until this morning. You have reviewed the case and found the patient presented with a similar condition a year ago at the time the fraud was first alleged. At that time, she was admitted to hospital, and investigations including computed tomography of the spine and head were reported as normal. After two weeks in hospital she recovered the ability to walk. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Examine the lower limbs with attention to the neurological system — you have six minutes to complete your examination.

Report your findings to the examiner as you proceed. Also take note of the patient's general behaviour and demeanour.

Answer the questions which the examiner will ask you about this problem.

• Provide a likely diagnosis to the examiner, and give your reasons for selecting the diagnosis. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 089 can be found on page 478


2-G The Psychiatric Consultation

2-G The Psychiatric Consultation Performance Guidelines MCAT 083-089 083 Medication changes for a 35-year-old woman with chronic schizophrenia 084 Demand for urgent treatment for 'sudden hair loss' from a 29-year-old man 085 Poor work performance in a 30-year-old female police officer 086 Lifestyle stress in a 45-year-old man 087 Binge drinking in a 25-year-old man 088 Nausea, headache and feeling 'jittery' in a 30-year-old bank clerk 089 Collapse of a 30-year-old woman on the way to a court attendance


083 Performance Guidelines

Condition 083 Medication changes for a 35-year-old woman with chronic schizophrenia AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to explain the need for antipsychotic medication change. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 35-year-old woman with chronic schizophrenia characterised by chronic paranoid delusions about being 'spied upon by people who live in your roof cavity'. Occasionally you can hear them whispering amongst themselves or 'operating a computet system that enables them to track you with electromagnetic radiation '. Although you live at home with your aging parents, you are socially isolated and rarely go out. You have been taking thioridazine under protest for 15 years and your condition is relatively stable. You have only limited insight into your illness. You are convinced that a family does live in your roof and you only take medication because your mother supervises this and insists that taking medication daily is a condition of you continuing to live at home. You cannot realistically move out, as you cannot afford to live anywhere else. Your only income is the disability support pension. Your weight is 66 kg and your height is 1.5 metres (BMI 29 kg/m2). You are attending your general practitioner to receive a repeat prescription of your thioridazine (Melleril®). It is a drug that has given you a mild dry mouth, blurred vision and constipation for years, so that when the doctor tells you it is time for a change, you are relieved, but sceptical — unconvinced that you need medication at all. Listen carefully to what the doctor says about the new medication options and respond appropriately depending on what is said. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should advise the patient of the need for medication change by appropriately: •

Outlining recent evidence linking her current medication with potentially life-threatening arrhythmias.

Describing the benefits and side effects of alternative medications.

Obtaining informed consent for medication change.

Outlining the management plan as detailed in the commentary.

Responding to patient's queries.


Explanation of risks of continuing current medication.

Explanation of benefits and side effects of recommended alternative medications.

Monitoring and followup during medication changeover.


083 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERROR - none defined

COMMENTARY In 2002, Australian prescribers were alerted to the recently established link between thioridazine and prolongation of the QTc interval of the heart. There is a danger of life-threatening ventricular tachycardia if the QTc interval is longer than 500 milliseconds. Pre-existing cardiac pathology, electrolyte abnormalities, thyroid disease, cerebrovascular disease, severe bradycardia and many commonly prescribed drugs may all lengthen the repolarisation phase of the ventricular myocardium, which could trigger the polymorphic tachycardia known as torsade de pointes. This arrhythmia is usually self-terminating but can progress to ventricular fibrillation or sustained tachycardia. Dizziness, syncopal episodes, cardiac arrest or death may result. Blockade of cardiac potassium channels may be the mechanism and genetic factors may play a part. Women are at greater risk. Thioridazine has also long been known to cause lenticular opacities when used in high dosage for long periods. But it is the anticholinergic effects which cause most subjective discomfort. Sedation, postural hypotension and weight gain are other well known side effects. Extrapyramidal toxicity with thioridazine is uncommon, but not rare. Since 1992 there have been several atypical antipsychotic drugs available for prescription in Australia. They are 'atypical' in the sense that their mechanism of action is not solely to block CNS dopamine D2 receptors and they are thus less likely to cause tardive dyskinaesia or other extrapyramidal syndromes. Their efficacy is equivalent to conventional 'typical' antipsychotics. The most important emerging side effects of the atypical agents are weight gain, metabolic disturbances and hyperprolactinaemia. Risperidone, olanzapine, amisulpride and quetiapine are available for prescription on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for schizophrenia. Weight gain liability is not confined to the atypicals, but olanzapine, quetiapine and risperidone (of the drugs available for prescription by general practitioners) are associated with faster and greater weight gain than typical antipsychotics. Adolescents may be particularly susceptible to this side effect. Weight gain is not dose-dependent, but patients who were relatively underweight prior to treatment may put on the most weight. The mechanism of weight gain may be blockage of the histamine H, receptor (which also causes sedation) and antagonism at 5HT2A receptors, as well as impaired feedback of the adipose tissue-leptin loop. There is an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in patients with schizophrenia independent of treatment, but weight gain and inappropriate dietary choice increase the risk further. Atypical antipsychotics, particularly olanzapine, heighten the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes especially in overweight or obese patients, by increasing insulin resistance. The risk is less with risperidone and quetiapine. Triglyceride levels, but not cholesterol, may also be significantly increased by olanzapine. Data about other atypicals are limited.


083 Performance Guidelines

Hyperprolactinaemia is a well known side effect of typical antipsychotics due to removal of inhibition of prolactin secretion by hypothalamic dopamine receptor blockade. Risperidone, of the atypical antipsychotics, has the greatest risk of hyperprolactinaemia and hence amenorrhoea, galactorrhoea. decreased libido, impotence and anorgasmia. Prolonged uninhibited prolactin release may cause hypogonadism and decreased oestrogen and testosterone secretion, which in turn increases cardiac morbidity and osteoporosis, and gives an increased risk of breast cancer. Hyperprolactinaemia, however, is a laboratory finding and is not always associated with clinical symptoms. Clozapine is the atypical antipsychotic with the most adverse side effect profile, including agranulocytosis, but it is available only through specialist clinics. Amisulpride is the atypical antipsychotic most likely to cause extrapyramidal side effects, although it is claimed to preferentially block limbic dopamine receptors rather than those in the striatum. The decision to change a patient from a typical to an atypical antipsychotic depends on the risk/benefit ratio. A patient on typical antipsychotics, who is stable and whose symptoms have reached equilibrium with minimal side effects, should not necessarily be changed to an atypical agent just because there is a choice. There is an increased risk of relapse requiring hospitalisation during the changeover period and patients need to be warned of the above major side effects. Lifestyle and dietary advice, weight monitoring and an agreed exercise program are all essential elements of the preswitch counselling process. Baseline weight, body mass index, blood pressure must be measured as well as a 12-lead ECG. thyroid function, fasting blood sugar and lipids, prolactin, full blood count, electrolytes, urea, creatinine and liver function tests. Once the decision has been made to change a patient from one antipsychotic to a new one, then for a nonacute patient, a crossover period of 1-2 weeks is recommended by reducing the dose of the previous medication and gradually increasing the dose of the new medication. Patients and caregiver need to be alert to the 'early warning signs' or relapse signature' symptoms which herald the return of acute psychosis. Nonspecific discontinuation symptoms may persist for several weeks after changeover. These include: nausea, headache, restlessness and an influenza-like syndrome. In this patient, because of the length of time on a typical antipsychotic, any change toa newer atypical agent may require dose-titration over several weeks and doses towards the higher end of the therapeutic range may be necessary.


084 Performance Guidelines

Condition 084 Demand for urgent treatment for 'sudden hair loss' from a 29-year-old man AIMS OF STATION This is primarily a diagnostic and communication skills station, assessing the candidates ability to take an empathie and relatively quick psychosocial history and to rapidly reach the correct diagnostic conclusion.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 29-year-old financial analyst in a large city merchant bank. It is a competitive environment. You have been with the company for six years since graduation from university, but your career progress has stalled. Although you are conscientious and reliable at work, it is three years since your last promotion. Fellow cadets from your intake cohort seem to have left you behind. You have just had a performance appraisal interview and have once again been passed over for promotion. Your explanation for this is that you are losing scalp hair and must be going bald and that it is your hair loss that has cost you your promotion. Since your adolescence you have been concerned about your appearance and grooming. It began with a belief that your face was asymmetrical which you believed was obvious to other people and this led to you checking your facial features in a mirror several times a day. Then you began to notice facial skin flaws and different shades of pigmentation. If you developed a pimple or shaving rash you would touch, pick at and constantly inspect the lesion in a mirror on an hourly basis. Checking your facial appearance on a regular basis during the course of a day has now become part of your daily life. Each mirror checking episode lasts several minutes with you having to reassure yourself that no new blemishes have appeared or that any existing blemishes are improving or fading. Whilst at work you can only do this every two hours for a few minutes, but at home and on weekends it may take you at least half an hour to complete a thorough inspection of your entire head and face region, which you repeat three times a day. If asked, you will concede that the total amount of time you spend checking your appearance in front of the mirror, touching, examining and picking at almost every skin pore or hair follicle, could be four hours a day on weekends. The amount of time you spend monitoring your appearance is slowly increasing. You still live at home with your parents, who are both school teachers approaching retirement. Your mother suffered from agoraphobia during her twenties before her marriage. They have become accustomed to you constantly asking them 'Howdo I look?' or, 7s there something wrong with my face/skin/mouth/eyes/hair?' Their unfailing reassurance that there is nothing wrong with your appearance does not reduce your concerns as you are sure they are only saying that to humour you. In the past decade, you have spent a small fortune on male beauty treatments, face packs, facial massages, hair styling and allergy-free soaps, shave creams and cosmetics in an attempt to treat or camouflage your skin defects. It is your main interest. Your concern for the care of your skin means that you do not like to socialise at parties or clubs where people may smoke. You avoid crowds and public transport to avoid embarrassment of strangers


084 Performance Guidelines

subjecting your features to close scrutiny. You avoid direct sun exposure. You do not smoke or drink alcohol. Over the past few months you have been monitoring the number of your scalp hairs you have found on the floor of the shower cubicle after a shower. Although it may only be one or two, you have come to believe several things. The first is that the cumulative loss of hairs means that you are going bald and that the resultant change in your hair density and thickness is obvious to other people. You are certain that this obvious hair loss has influenced your employers not to promote you because to have employees with thinning hair is not good for the bank's image when dealing with clients. Finding out that you have yet again not been promoted has driven you to seek advice, about diagnosis and treatment for your hair loss. As you do not trust your family general practitioner, who has dismissed your concerns and said there is nothing wrong, you have sought a second opinion from an unbiased doctor at the city hospital closest to where you work. How to play the role You must be neat, well dressed and have a full head of hair. You will have an envelope with a 7 couple of strands of your hair in it. You will be anxious and somewhat irritable. If there is a mirror in the consulting room, then insist on showing the doctor your 'receding hair line' at an early stage of the interview. (It would be useful to have a small mirror as a prop) Opening statements • • • •

‘Doctor, you've got to find out why I'm losing my hair!' ‘I want these hairs of mine examined under a microscope by a specialist! ' 'Let me show you where I'm going bald'. 'You've got to do something!'

Your subsequent behaviour and emotional reactions will be shaped by the way the interview unfolds. If the doctor rushes to judgment and dismisses your concerns without tact, empathy or appropriate discussion, then your irritability and exasperation may increase. If the doctor realises what your underlying problem is. effectively establishes rapport, and the extent of your difficulties and hypochondriacal concerns is realised, then be defensive and sceptical, but be prepared to listen and interact appropriately. Do not willingly volunteer history of your rituals or checking behaviour until asked. These have been behaviours you have kept secret for years, but you may be relieved that at last someone is able to encourage you to talk about them. After six minutes, the examiner will interrupt the consultation and ask 'What is your provisional diagnosis? Describe briefly possible management plans to me. ' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The patient has a form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) presenting with the conviction of impending baldness, when objectively and clinically, there is no supporting evidence. BDD is a form of hypochondriasis which is part of the anxiety disorder spectrum. In this instance there are many obsessive compulsive disorder features. BDD is a condition that affects about 1% of the population, but is infrequently diagnosed because of the lack of awareness by clinicians and patients' secrecy about their bodily preoccupations.


084 Performance Guidelines

The candidate will be expected to establish the diagnosis, the associated behaviours and the complications in this case, as well as being aware of the common comorbid psychological disorders. Knowledge about the effectiveness of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy in this condition would be desirable. Key questions the candidate should ask of the patient would be: • 'Apart from your hair, have you ever been very worried about your appearance in any other way?' • (If yes): 'Can you tell me what your concern was?' • 'Did this concern preoccupy you? Do you think about it a lot and wish you could worry about it less?' • 'What effect has this preoccupation with your appearance had on your life?' • 'Has it affected your social life, family relationships, friends, job or other activities?' • ‘Do you wish to do anything about your concerns?' KEY ISSUES • Ability to take a focused psychosocial history and to come to an appropriate diagnosis. • Ability to communicate with a patient with body dysmorphic disorder. CRITICAL ERRORS - none defined

COMMENTARY 'Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or dysmorphophobia, is a chronic preoccupation with an imagined defect in one's appearance. Even if a slight physical anomaly is present, the person's concern is markedly excessive. The preoccupation causes significant distress or impairment in the person s social, occupational and other important areas of functioning. Typical complaints commonly involve imagined or slight flaws of the face or head such as thinning hair, acne, wrinkles, scars, vascular markings, paleness or redness of the complexion, swelling, facial asymmetry or disproportion or excessive facial hair. Other common preoccupations include the shape, size or some other aspect of the nose, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, ears, mouth, lips, teeth, jaw, chin, cheeks or head. Any other body part may be the focus of concern (the genitals, breasts, buttocks, abdomen, arms, hands, feet, legs, hips, shoulders, spine, overall body size or body build and musculature). The preoccupation may focus simultaneously on several body parts and although it may be often specific: 'a hooked nose'; it may also be vague: 'a flat chest'; or general: 'I'm just ugly'. From Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4 - Text Revision Most individuals with this disorder experience marked distress over their perceived deformities. They find their preoccupations difficult to control and may make little or no attempt to resist them. Many hours of the day may be spent thinking and worrying about their 'defect' and these thoughts may dominate their lives, leading to significant impairments in functioning and avoidance of work, social and public situations. Repetitive and


084 Performance Guidelines

time-consuming behaviours are undertaken to reduce their distress, which have no or only minimal benefit. Reassurance that there are no visible defects has no lasting effect on their abnormal beliefs. The core irrational belief in BDD is that the person is somehow defective and unattractive and this is accompanied by low self esteem, shame, embarrassment and fear of rejection. The condition is common if it is looked for and asked about. The most common associated behaviours are mirror-checking, touching, comparing the defect' with other people's body parts either directly or with pictures in magazines, excessive grooming, camouflaging, constantly seeking reassurance and questioning others about their alleged defects or ugliness and then seeking dermatological or cosmetic surgical treatments. Social impairment is the norm. They are socially avoidant and will not willingly visit restaurants, shopping centres, beaches or go to parties or functions because of their self-consciousness about their appearance. Insight is usually poor or partial and their beliefs may become delusional. It is their self-referential ideas, i.e. that other people are taking special notice of their 'defect' and will talk and gossip and laugh about it, that contribute to their social isolation and intensify their suffering to the point of despair, self-harm and sometimes suicide. Psychiatric comorbidity is universal. Major depression is the most common (60%) but social anxiety/phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse and avoidant personality disorder are highly prevalent. There is a roughly equal sex incidence and similar clinical features. Perhaps women are more likely to focus on their skins, lips, and weight, whereas men are more preoccupied with overall physique, their genitals and hair loss or excess. The condition typically begins in adolescence, but may not present or be diagnosed until the thirties. The course is chronic and relapsing. Most patients with BDD seek costly dermatological or cosmetic surgical consultations and treatments, but remain dissatisfied with the results. They may then become litigious or violent. Rarely patients perform their own procedures after consulting internet web sites. Management The specific serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants and clomipramine are often effective. The dosages need to be in the higher range and it may take three months to get a response, but 70% of patients report improvement. Augmentation with antipsychotics may increase the response rate. Treatment must be continued longterm as relapse is common if treatment is discontinued. Cognitive behavioural treatments including psychoeducation, cognitive challenge and restructuring, exposure and response prevention, as well as anxiety management training, can supplement drug treatment and increase response rates to over 80%. Severe comorbid depression may need hopitalisation and/or lithium carbonate augmentation with antidepressants. Trying to convince patients with entrenched ideas that their beliefs are irrational or that they look normal is unlikely to persuade them to accept psychiatric treatment or referral. With the patient's consent, family involvement in psychoeducation and treatment planning and supervision of response prevention strategies and the removal of mirrors from the family home may be valuable.


085 Performance Guidelines

Condition 085 Poor work performance in a 30-year-old female police officer AIMS OF STATION To assess the ability of the candidate to diagnose a stress-related depression associated with increased alcohol intake. To assess the ability of the candidate to determine when and why the problem started, and what the ramifications of the problem might be at this time or in the future. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You do not wish to be examined by the candidate and resent having been advised to see the general practitioner by the Police Service's staff counsellor. You should present as anxious and initially reluctant to admit that you are having difficulties at work. When the candidate questions you further, answer the following or similar questions directly, but volunteer additional information only if appropriately led. • After candidates introduce themselves, insert the following into your first answer to them: ‘I

didn't really want to come today. I am only here because the Police Service thinks I have a problem. ' • If you are asked if there are any problems at work, at first say: ‘I d o m y j o b w e l l — t h e r e have been no complaints about what I do at work. ' • You are a police constable with a variety of service attachments in the field and at office tasks. • You live alone. No current romantic relationships. ‘Too b u s y a t w o r k . ' • Your family is interstate. • You have l o t s o f f r i e n d s ' , but haven't seen them much lately. • Been ill? ' N o t t h a t m u c h m o r e t h a n o t h e r s . I ' v e h a d s i x d a y s o f f i n t h e l a s t

month. ' • Days off when shift changes? ‘I guess I ' v e h a d o n e o r t w o d a y s o f f o n t h e l a s t f o u r

times the shift changed. ' • What has been wrong? ' I ' v e b e e n f e e l i n g r e a l l y j u m p y a n d o n e d g e . I ' v e b e e n

finding it hard to concentrate and just don't have any confidence. ' • When did this start? ' S i x m o n t h s a g o . ' — ' O n e d a y I h a d t o g o t o a f a t a l m o t o r

vehicle accident where an adult and two children were killed. The very next day I was called to an armed hold-up and both my work colleague and I were shot at by the offender. I was OK, but my work colleague received serious injuries and he has not returned to work. ' • When has the anxious feeling been worse? ' W h e n I t h i n k a b o u t t h o s e e x p e r i e n c e s , or when I have to deal with another situation where people might get hurt. It's also worse when I'm going back to work after some days off. '


085 Performance Guidelines

What is the anxiety like? Volunteer any two of the following features if asked a general question: ~ Feel terrified something awful will happen. ~ Racing heart (palpitations), breathing faster, and perspiring a lot. ~ Nightmares of both incidents — most nights. ~ Can't watch television or read magazines with pictures or articles of car accidents or Police Officers being shot at.

What will happen in the future? 'It is only a matter of time before I'm injured or killed in the line of duty. '

Alcohol? Only answer direct questions 'Over the last six months my alcohol intake has increased from 1-2 glasses of wine per week to 6-7 glasses of wine each day on most days. '

What does alcohol do for you? 'It relaxes me and lowers the anxiety. It's the only thing that helps me "unwind" after work and enables me to get to sleep. '

Does your use of alcohol bother you? 'I am worried that I have to have a drink to control the anxiety. '

Suicidal thoughts? 'No. ' If pressed further, add 'I have sometimes thought that life is not worth living. '

Any plans to commit suicide or past attempts to harm yourself? 'No. Never. I don't want to end my life. '

What about your gun? 'I have not handed this in nor have I been asked to do so. '

Examiner's questions Towards the end of six minutes, the examiner will ask the candidate to describe three conditions which should be included in the differential diagnosis. Appropriate responses are: 1. Anxiety disorder: post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder or generalised anxiety disorder. 2. Depressive disorder: adjustment disorder, major depressive disorder. 3. Alcohol dependence/abuse, or just problem drinking. Next questions for the examiner to ask should be: •

'What is a safe level of alcohol consumption for this patient?' Low risk = maximum of 20 grams per day (two standard drinks) and two alcohol-free days per week (NHMRC Levels for Women).

'What are the short term risks associated with the patient's current level of alcohol use?’ You should expect at least four of the following: ~ hangover effects — headaches, anorexia, tremor: ~ gastritis; ~ impulsive acts — including suicide attempts; ~ impaired decision-making: ~ accidents, including with firearms; ~ worsening of mood/depression; ~ potentiation of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms; or ~ social or occupational problems.

NOTE: If the candidate has not identified alcohol dependence/abuse as a problem, these questions should NOT be asked. Instead ask 'Are there any other possible diagnoses?’


085 Performance Guidelines

KEY ISSUES • Ability to take a focused history to define the potential cause of the current problem. • Knowledge of the causes of the problem • Knowledge of the short-term effects of alcohol excess, and the NHMRC recommendations of alcohol abuse.

CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to identify the excess alcohol consumption. • Failure to ask about suicide.

COMMENTARY This case concerns a patient with a work experience that has exposed her to severe stress, leading to an alcohol abuse problem to help relieve a post-traumatic stress syndrome with anxiety. The patient is also at risk of comorbid depression and suicide. She has a responsible job and failure to help her may also result in her colleagues or other members of the community being at risk. Candidates must both take an adequate history of alcohol consumption, and also explore the factors that have led to the problem, namely the fatal car accident and the shooting of her work colleague the next day. They should ask about the key features of post-traumatic stress, assess subjective mood and risk of suicide and. particularly in this case, her access to firearms. Identifying the alcohol problem alone is insufficient for a pass. Candidates should be familiar with at least four of the short-term risks or consequences of excess alcohol use and the NHMRC recommendations concerning alcohol consumption. If they are not aware of at least four, a pass mark is unlikely to be given.


086 Performance Guidelines

Condition 086 Lifestyle stress in a 45-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise and to communicate to the patient, common behavioural, physiological, psychological and emotional concomitants of lifestyle stress, and to formulate and implement an appropriate immediate and preventive management plan, EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The candidate needs to have sufficient skills in evaluation of cardiovascular disease to recognise this is not ischaemic heart disease, and advise the patient accordingly. If candidates attempt to seek further history, examination or investigation of cardiovascular disease, the examiner is to inform them (once) they are to proceed on the basis of a normal examination. No further prompts. The candidate who pursues a physical cause to the exclusion of the psychological matters should be marked down. The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You have been recommended to see a general practitioner to review your health after an insurance assessment. You have been told that cholesterol, blood sugar, and resting ECG are normal, but on two occasions in the last month when tested by the insurance doctor, the BP reading was high (160/80 mmHg) but eventually settled to normal levels. On those days, you had come from particularly difficult meetings. You have never thought about having serious physical illness, and believe people who complain of stress 'just aren't motivated enough or don't work out their goals properly'. You enjoy being challenged by work and sports, and people coming to see you for advice. You never take a day off work, even with a bad cold or jetlagged from a trip, and avoid taking tablets, even a Panadol® if you have a headache at the end of the day. The only health problem you have noticed is more frequent headaches towards the end of the day. which you put down to eyestrain. You have never felt depressed, or at any time recognised yourself as being anxious, and you would still enjoy all your usual activities if there was time to do them. You feel rather shocked by what you have been told and by the way you have felt over the past couple of weeks. You have planned to retire at 55. You work 12-15 hour days. Since you were promoted 18 months ago, you have been taking work home on weekends more frequently and there is a lot more pressure. You sometimes feel like escaping, but think of it only being a few more years and anyway you feel happier at work than at home these days. It is just too noisy with three teenage children, and you get irritated with your eldest son who dropped out of university last year, and 'just sits around playing music with his mates'. You did not go on the family holiday this year for the same reason, blaming work. Your spouse is usually very understanding, but got mad with you about that and things have been tense the last few months. You have been more irritable at home, and your spouse complains you criticise the children too much.


086 Performance Guidelines

You normally get on with a few hours sleep, often thinking through work problems once you are in bed. You never feel tired, but the last year or so you 'catch up with naps' on weekends. The last couple of weeks, you have slept badly, and feel tired in the morning There is little time for sex, but you are sure it is not your lack of interest that is the problem. You used to exercise regularly at the gym and with weekly tennis but have not done so in the last few years because you are just too busy at work, and running around with the children's activities on weekends. Now, you walk up the stairs when you have time. You have gained a few kg over the past few years, but do not consider yourself overweight, or unfit. You have always eaten a balanced diet, except when on overseas trips and at business lunches. You stopped smoking 15 years ago when your father, who was a very heavy smoker and ate badly, died at 65 of a heart attack, but started again smoking 3-5 cigarettes a day in the past 12 months because it helps keep you going through the day. You have never worried about suffering your father's fate, because you have looked after yourself so well. You consider yourself a moderate social drinker. You notice you are drinking more these days. You feel uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment, and somewhat embarrassed about the problem. Answer any questions from the candidate in a straightforward manner. Seek reassurance about the risk of heart attack, but do not labour the point; and readily accept further investigations, if offered. Expect to be provided with an effective solution and definite results, the sooner the better, but acknowledge the stress levels and sources when identified, and seek advice regarding change. You are more accepting of a straightforward solution (for example, regular recreation, exercise, and sleep pattern). Questions to ask unless already covered: • Opening question: 7s this stress, or some kind of a breakdown?' • 'Could it be the beginning of heart trouble, or cause a heart attack?' • 'If my heart is okay, why did I have those pains in my chest?' • 'What would help the most?' • 'What do you suggest I do?' • 'How long will this all take to make a difference?' • 'What happens if I need these tablets all the time to sleep? Are they addictive?' • 'What else can I do to sleep?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should: • Inform the patient about common symptoms of stress, both psychological and physiological. • Explain the mechanism of physiological symptoms — headaches resulting from muscle tension, sympathetic arousal causing blood pressure rise and initial sleep disruption. • Reassure about nature of stabbing chest pain. • Identify for the patient the sources of stress (overwork, absence of leisure and exercise) and the compensatory measures which increase physical and emotional burden (alcohol and smoking, reduced sleep).


086 Performance Guidelines

Educate about the negative role of stress in cardiovascular disease and mental health.

Assist the patient in identifying realistic changes for healthier work/personal balance (e.g. increased recreation through regular exercise, holidays, and sleep pattern).

Initial management plan •

Appropriate advice regarding lifestyle change, including discussion with spouse

Avoidance of intensive or invasive management.


Patient counselling — explanation of diagnosis and patient education and initial management plan.

Provision of an adeguate explanation about stress, its origins and its physical, behavioural and psychological seguelae and complications, acute and chronic.

Reassurance about blood pressure and chest pain.

CRITICAL ERROR - none defined COMMENTARY This patient has obsessional personality characteristics of perfectionism, mental and interpersonal control, propensity to overwork, and inflexibility (not personality disorder, on available information). As a coping style, it has brought occupational and personal success, but in the context of promotion and increasingly complex life, especially family demands, it is now being overused; healthy compensatory mechanisms such as pursuit of fitness and competitive sports have been discarded, and dysfunctional habits substituted. The degree of dysfunction is sufficient to produce somatic and behavioural symptoms — increased headache, chest pain, labile hypertension, increased intolerance and isolation. The patient is stressed and does not have a psychiatric or physical illness, but intervention is now needed to modify those behaviours which increase risk of cardiovascular disease and psychiatric illness, as well as relationship breakdown. Recognition of the personality style enables realistic intervention — brief, behaviourally or physically mediated, with extension to include spouse for interpersonal/family issues. Management The essential management is to provide this patient with appropriately focused brief intervention to modify behaviours and lifestyle, after engagement through adequate reassurance regarding physical illness, followed by education of the physiological mechanisms and identification of stressors. Use of hypnotherapy for sleep disturbance (short-term) is acceptable but other measures are preferable, such as a regular sleep pattern, and progressive muscle relaxation. Modification of lifestyle — restrain working hours, alcohol and cigarette consumption. Resume exercise, increase leisure activities, including family pursuits — these are the interventions most able to be implemented. Include the spouse in supporting lifestyle modifications and enable discussion of interpersonal and family issues. Followup and ongoing monitoring of blood pressure and cardiovascular health is indicated.


086 Performance Guidelines

Communication skills • Ability to take this opportunity to engage a reasonably informed, currently anxious, but usually pragmatic and busy person in appropriate lifestyle change. • Ability to combine the tasks of identifying stressors, with providing psychoeducation, through using direct questions around the main activities of daily living and habits, and empathie listening. • Attitude to alcohol and cigarette use should be nonjudgmental and proportionate to use. • Consideration to inclusion of spouse in further discussion.


087 Performance Guidelines

Condition 087 Binge drinking in a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise the specific risks of the patient's drinking pattern and to counsel him accordingly. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS This is problem drinking of a binge drinking type with consequential exposure to risk —in this instance, to personal physical injury, neglect of parental responsibilities and potential harm to his daughter. The binge drinking pattern risks impaired judgement and injury to self and others. Other potential problems, some of which he has manifested in the past, are of illness, financial, work, relationship, social, psychological and legal complications. Brief interventions such as this consultation provide a vital opportunity to initiate change in critical patterns of dysfunctional behaviour. The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Opening statement •

(You are embarrassed and feel tense but attempt to make a joke of it) ‘I deserve this knock and the team lost! I think its put some sense into my head, but I'll listen to your lecture just in case!'

You have no recollection of your fall, or how much you had to drink.

Your mates said you were 'playing up'.

Respond to further questions about the amount you drink, or any other attempt to estimate it (e.g. by cost), defensively — 'not any more than my mates at the club — don't do anybody any harm.'

In response to specific questioning: •

You drink because it helps you unwind, and makes you more sociable; you need a break by the end of the week with work and taking care of your daughter.

Admit to being stressed by the demands of being a single parent and not being able to call on your family for help because they hold you responsible for your former partner leaving. Now you no longer have a babysitter because the next door neighbour who has filled that role now refuses to do so because of the events last week. She had to go home and left your daughter asleep, alone.

You regard yourself as a responsible and caring parent and had intended to be home. If specifically asked, you admit this has happened before but rationalise your lapses by saying ' The girl is such a good sleeper, she never wakes and would never know.'

You do not feel anxious or depressed.

You do not have any symptoms of panic or phobia of any kind.

You have never had any medical complaints, apart from minor injury like today.

You do have 'blackouts' (episodes of amnesia) quite often.

You do not have any fits, faints, withdrawal symptoms (sweats, tremor and palpitations).

You have had no period of abstinence longer than two weeks.

You have not noted any change in tolerance.


087 Performance Guidelines • You do not drink in the morning. • You have had one drink driving charge with no loss of licence several years ago. No other forensic history.

Questions which may be asked with appropriate responses • 'Are you saying I'm an alcoholic?' The candidate should indicate there are ranges of consequential problems to excessive drinking, and binge type drinking is associated with increased risk-taking and acute harm events. • 'Look at my father — he's always been a drinker and he's okay' There are various responses, including simply accepting this statement without comment, to a reminder that his father's drinking was associated with violence and family dysfunction, which the patient would want to avoid for his daughter. • 'Howcan I relax if I don't have a few drinks with my mates?'The candidate could respond with an undertaking to discuss this further, or the option of controlled drinking (less feasible with a binge drinking pattern), or some introduction of relaxation techniques.

Further instructions: You know this doctor quite well, and generally feel comfortable here. You are embarrassed about your drinking problem being addressed directly and you are initially tense and defensive, especially about any risk or harm to your daughter or doubt about your parenting capacity. However, unless the doctor is unduly critical, you are prepared to listen to the advice and respond in a positive way to changing your drinking habits.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Recognise that alcohol overuse — binge pattern — is the primary problem. • Discuss the problem and actual consequences. • Seek out whether there are any aggravating as yet undisclosed issues or current stressors. • Counsel the patient about the risks to his daughter and his relationship with and care of

her. • Advise reduction or cessation of alcohol use — discuss. • Demonstrate knowledge of hazardous/harmful drinking levels (NHMRC guidelines for men, safe up to six standard drinks per day. no more than three days a week). • Be able to communicate concern in a nonjudgmental and nonthreatening way so as to maintain rapport and ensure engagement in ongoing review and case management. The candidate is expected to diplomatically but firmly advise that the patient has a habit of binge drinking on weekends, and that change is necessary, for his own wellbeing and his daughter's. The candidate should approach this by discussing this incident and injury and asking about any current problems or stresses, and encouraging the patient to talk about his views about his drinking and other potential problems.

KEY ISSUES • Discussion about binge drinking and consequential harm. • Highlight risk to daughter — discuss potential referral to child protective services or equivalent.


087 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERROR • Not addressing the issue of his daughter's wellbeing, protection and care management in any way.

COMMENTARY Alcohol abuse and dependency are linked with genetic and developmental predisposition, developmental, environment, personality traits and other psychiatric illness, especially mood and personality disorders, Sociocultural factors are also significant. The evaluation of all of these elements is important in the individual case, especially identification of concurrent psychiatric illness which requires treatment in its own right, and of interpersonal and sociocultural factors which trigger or maintain the behaviour. Hazardous drinking of excessive quantities of alcohol intermittently is a subtype of alcohol abuse, which is less likely to be associated with addictive/withdrawal symptoms than a daily drinking pattern, and more likely to be associated with injury and other social and interpersonal sequelae of impaired judgement and poor impulse control. The recognition of hazardous drinking depends less on an estimation of the quantity consumed than defining a pattern of drinking, often rapidly, to severe intoxication and consequential risk-taking. The symptom of a 'blackout', a brief period of amnesia without loss of consciousness during a drinking episode, is associated with the rapid consumption/absorption of alcohol and is a useful indicator of this pattern. Incidents of accidental injury to self or others, disinhibition and sexual or aggressive acts, and neglect of self or others are other frequent reasons for intervention. Episodic neglect of financial, occupational and social responsibility is common, such as regularly missing work after weekends. Effectively intervening in such a problem requires identification of the reason for the adverse consequences, sensitive but frank communication about them and the underlying problem and appropriate offers of assistance, including education, assessment of other psychiatric, medical, social, legal and interpersonal problems, motivation for change and ongoing review. In this case, there is a specific need to appropriately address the risk to the patients daughter which must include his responsibility for parental care and protection, and the responsibility of the doctor to monitor and ensure her wellbeing. including consideration of referral to child protective services. In addition to counselling this young man about his hazardous drinking, the doctor may have a statutory obligation to inform an authority such as the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs of his daughter's situation. She is potentially at risk of abuse by neglect. Rather than being punitive or restrictive, the Department's caseworkers should be able to advise him about local child-care and parent support services, as well as possible child-minding options. Consider checking whether notification was made at the time of his presentation to the Emergency Department. Most communities will have single parent support groups and possibly men-only support groups which may be of interest to him. A good general practitioner will either have relevant pamphlets on hand or be able to print the information off line.


087 Performance Guidelines

In addition to practical support, this man would benefit from understanding simple problem-solving in relation to his daughter's ongoing child-care. For example, through her school he could advertise for part-time child support or pressure the partners of his team mates to care for his daughter during the game and its aftermath. His drinking pattern may jeopardise his ability to drive and hence his livelihood if he should lose his driver's license or have a serious accident. Consider at what point should a clinician notify the local license-issuing authority about

CONDITION 087. FIGURE 1. Alcohol content of standard drinks*

'Many thanks to Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia for this poster


hazardous drinking.


088 Performance Guidelines

Condition 088 Nausea, headache and feeling 'jittery' in a 30-year-old bank clerk AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise that the history strongly suggests a mild serotonin syndrome. The candidate should ask for findings consistent with the serotonin syndrome, namely: sweating, tremor, elevated blood pressure, increased pulse rate, increased muscle tone and hyper-reflexia. If the candidate has not started to ask for these findings six minutes into the examination, the examiner should advise to proceed with the tasks required, namely advising the patient of the diagnosis and management of both the immediate problem and her depressive illness.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows You are a 30-year-old bank clerk. You suffer from recurrent depression. Your medication has recently been changed (see below). You have come back to the Emergency Department of a nearby general hospital because of severe nausea, headache and the jitters. Your opening statement to the doctor should be: ‘I feel awful doctor — I'm nauseated, I've got a headache and a feeling of the jitters. It all started yesterday'. Without prompting — go on and tell the doctor: 'Three weeks ago my local doctor started me on Prozac® (fluoxetine) 20 mg daily for a relapse of the depression I get. It didn't seem to be helping much'. Two days ago you felt some back pain and attended the hospital Emergency Department. You saw a doctor and mental health nurse and were told it was due to muscle strain'. They were more concerned with your depression and prescribed Zoloft® (sertraline) 100 mg daily. You told them about being on Prozac® which you then stopped taking because you knew that both drugs were antidepressants.

In answer to further questions which may be asked: •

You feel anxious and 'aroused'. You are still sleeping poorly and waking about 4-5am. You think your appetite was improving before the nausea started.

You have never had suicidal ideas but you remain pessimistic about the future and find it hard to concentrate at work.

Your back pain has resolved.

You have had no other symptoms and your last period was two weeks ago.

You are wondering if the medication is the reason you feel so unwell. When the candidate explains that this is the case, you are relieved. You are angry that the hospital doctors did not warn you of this, but on the other hand you think there may well have been some confusion over what was said to whom as they all seemed very busy and distracted and you felt a bit sorry for them and wanted not to bother them too much. You are prepared to follow the doctor's advice about further treatment, but do not want to have another reaction like this. You could say something like 'Could this happen again?' The candidate is not expected to conduct a physical examination, but will ask for appropriate examination findings from the examiner.


088 Performance Guidelines

Near the end of the exam, if the candidate has not told you to stop the treatment with Zoloft®, you should ask ' S h o u l d I c o n t i n u e w i t h t h e c u r r e n t d o s e o f Z o l o f t ® ? ' Examiner will provide details of physical examination on request as follows: Pulse rate

90/min, regular.


36.8 °C.

Blood pressure 130/80 mmHg She has a tremor, her palms feel sweaty, and tone and reflexes in limbs are brisk and mildly hyperactive.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Serotonin syndrome should be diagnosed. • The appropriate advice regarding management is to stop Zoloft® (sertraline) and wait until the symptoms resolve, in about 24 hours. As Prozac® (fluoxetine) has a long half life the candidate should recommend waiting at least another week before reintroducing sertraline, at a lower dose, for example, 25-30 mg. A reasonable alternative is to reintroduce fluoxetine, which has not yet had an adequate therapeutic trial in this patient. The candidate should continue to treat the depression and should arrange followup with the Emergency Department or the patient's general practitioner the next day, and advise the patient to contact the after-hours service immediately if symptoms worsen. Support will need to be provided for the patient during the 'washout' period as she is still depressed. KEY ISSUES • Ability to diagnose the serotonin syndrome due to side effects of a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) drug. CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to recognise the need to stop the Zoloft® (sertraline) medication. COMMENTARY This scenario is a timely reminder about aspects of psychopharmacology. Side effects are common with most psychotropics because they may be prescribed too enthusiastically and in dosages that are inappropriately high, especially in management of ' d e p r e s s i o n ' which is a complex multifactorial complaint in our modern society. Not all patients with ' d e p r e s s i o n ' or depressive symptoms need antidepressants, but like antibiotics they are often prescribed reflexly by doctors under time pressure as a ’quick fix – it can’t do any harm’ panacea for a patient in distress or in tears. Often it is the doctor's helplessness that is being treated by the prescription because there is never enough time to establish why this patient is depressed on this occasion.


088 Performance Guidelines

Another common error is to start with too high a dose if the patient is 'really, really distressed {more must be better and will work faster'). Antidepressants and antipsychotics take 3 4 weeks to work. If the patient's symptoms improve within that time there may be other factors which explain the improvement, such as reduction in anxiety or insomnia or the benefits of a sensitive interview with the discussion of issues and problems, or relief that the problem has been identified and that something is being done. Often it is not symptoms per se that cause patients or relatives to seek treatment. Patients present to doctors when they are worried or anxious about symptoms or behaviours, or someone else is, who influences the patient to attend the consultation. Anxiety intensifies ALL symptoms including 'depression' and is accompanied by typically exaggerated and catastrophic cognitions about the conseguences and outcome of whatever is causing their distress. ‘Is it fatal/terminal? Will I go mad/drop dead etc?' An effective initial consultation with a patient who is 'depressed which attempts a biological-psychologicalsociocultural approach and allows sufficient time for the patient to be listened to, to be understood and to be taken seriously, will in itself relieve a major part of the intensity of the symptoms. This will only enhance the effectiveness of whatever is subseguently recommended or prescribed. Many people with 'depression' have mood fluctuations on a cyclical basis which are subthreshold or relatively mild. These people are more likely to present at their peaks or troughs when they are symptomatic in response to a life event or ongoing environmental stress. Their symptoms may be naturally or temporally transient. If these people (as patients) are then prescribed psychotropics, including antidepressants, when symptomatic (instead of being managed expectantly), and they improve after a few days, they and their clinician may mistakenly attribute their response to the medication. This may commit them to a future psychological dependence on medication rather than learning to tolerate temporary oscillations in mood and biological symptoms by using nonchemical coping strategies. Some doctors and patients have become brainwashed by pharmaceutical companies into believing that any degree of distress or suffering reguires a chemical solution that is quick and effective (but freguently expensive and unnecessary). When a patient has been started on an antidepressant and is appropriately reviewed a week later and reports no improvement, the inexperienced or unaware clinician may recommend doubling the dose and seeing the patient a week later. At two weeks, when there is still no major improvement or cure, the dose will be increased or doubled again. By the third week when the patient reports some improvement at last, this is wrongly attributed to the increase in dosage and not the latent response to the initial dose. SSRIs are potent drugs even in low dosage. Once the dosage increases then side effects and toxicity will increase significantly. Most patients take such medications erratically or in fits and starts (i.e. if they are having ' a good day' they will skip a dose: if it's a bad day', then they will double the dose). Some patients are extremely somatically focused and will develop toxicity just by reading the package inserts about product information. This patient feels aggrieved that she has been mismanaged and ill-served by the doctors who have unknowingly contributed to her serotonin syndrome. Patients deserve better and clinicians must ensure that they are aware of both the risks and benefits of the drugs they prescribe. As patients become better informed, they will not tolerate scenarios like this one lightly. Neither will their legal advisers.


088 Performance Guidelines

The serotonin syndrome is caused by excess serotonin in the central nervous system, commonly because of drug-drug interaction, in this case inadequate washout between a long half life agent (fluoxetine) and a high starting dose of a second SSRI (sertraline). The syndrome usually presents with changes in mental state (confusion, irritability, labile mood), restlessness, myoclonus, hyper-reflexia. fever, sweating, shivering and tremor and diarrhoea. Hypertension, convulsions, and death have been reported. Treatment is to cease the medication and provide symptomatic care (e.g. cooling blankets). Referral to an emergency specialist may be necessary in more severe cases.


089 Performance Guidelines

Condition 089 Collapse of a 30-year-old woman on the way to a court attendance AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to conduct an examination of the lower limbs focusing on the neurological system. To make a diagnosis based on the neurological findings, observations of the patient's behaviour and the history provided.

The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: •

The candidate is to do a neurological examination of your legs and ask you to stand and walk.

Be polite, calm and cooperative. Exhibit a lack of concern for your condition.

Although your spouse is presently in court facing charges linked to his gambling debts, and you cannot walk, behave in an unconcerned manner.

If asked directly, you say that you are a little worried for your spouse but have no concerns for yourself. You have confidence in the hospital that they will be able to help and you will get better.

Candidates are not required to ask any further history from you, and will be directed away from that course by the examiner, should they do so.

During the examination, which involves tests of movement and coordination of your legs, follow the candidate's instructions in a straightforward way while you are on the examination couch — you are not required to simulate any dysfunction or discomfort.

When requested, you are able to lift your legs, and sit over the edge of the examination couch, but you cannot stand, even with support, and firmly decline to walk.

You will not need to ask any specific questions to the candidate.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE When the candidate commences any sensory examination, or asks to do this, the examiner will say that sensation does not need to be tested. The candidate must test: passive and active movement, power, tone, reflexes, coordination and should attempt to test gait. If the candidate attempts to test the plantar reflex, indicate this is down-going. •

Tone, coordination and reflexes will be normal.

Inconsistent findings should be noted by the candidate: normal active and passive movements in supine and sitting position, but patient unable to stand or walk, aided or unaided.

At six minutes, instruct the candidate to stop the examination, ask the candidate to summarise the findings, and ask the following questions (appropriate answers in brackets): •

'What would you expect to find on sensory examination, given your findings thus far?’ (Normal sensation)

'What is your likely diagnosis?' (Somatoform conversion disorder or similar term)

'What has led you to that conclusion?' (Physical findings inappropriate for organic illness)


089 Performance Guidelines

If there is time, and the candidate has not commented on these features, the examiner could ask: • What have you noticed about the patient's attitude and general behaviour and what

does that signify?' • What is your understanding of the psychological reasons for this patient's

presentation at this time?' The candidate should be able to: • Perform a systematic motor examination of the lower limbs. • Recognise the presence of incongruous affect, being bland disconcern ('belle indifference'), and its significance for diagnosis. • Formulate a likely diagnosis, being a physical problem developing in an individual under stress: conversion disorder, somatoform disorder, abnormal illness behaviour, sick role behaviour. Malingering is not an acceptable diagnosis because there is no personal gain. Anxiety/stress or other such diagnosis by itself is not an acceptable diagnosis. • Demonstrate familiarity with typically associated findings such as normal sensory examination findings. • Utilise a nonjudgmental approach, in the face of abnormal illness behaviour. • Hypothesise that the 'belle indifference' and physical disability are defences against an overwhelming emotion such as anxiety, anger or shame. KEY ISSUES •

Ability to conduct an appropriate focused neurological examination of the lower limbs and identify a somatoform conversion disorder with abnormal illness (sick role) behaviour.

CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to conduct a thorough neurological examination as instructed COMMENTARY This station assesses the ability of the candidate to recognise abnormal illness behaviour, to correctly identify conversion disorder and also conduct an examination of the lower limbs. It is an integrated station in that it is assessing both clinical skills in neurological examination and recognition of a psychiatric somatoform disorder. It is thus unacceptable for the candidate to do a cursory or incomplete neurological examination and equally, it is unacceptable for the candidate to conclude the problem is 'stress-related', 'an anxiety disorder' or other such ill-defined diagnosis. Use of terms that are in psychiatric classification schemes, other than the most recent versions of the International Classification of Diseases — ICD10 or American Psychiatric Association DSM-IV, such as hysterical conversion, abnormal illness behaviour and sick role behaviour are acceptable. Stronger candidates may present a more sophisticated diagnosis with formulation, thus correctly linking the conversion disorder to the unresolved emotional conflicts around the impending fraud charges and the candidate's extreme shame and anxiety in regard to this.


089 Performance Guidelines

The common feature of somatoform disorders is the presence of one or several symptoms or physical signs that suggest an organic or physical illness but which are not explained by any medical condition, or side effects of any medication or substance, or by another psychiatric disorder (e.g. schizophrenia or panic disorder). The symptoms must cause significant distress, impairment or predicaments in the patients social and occupational functioning. These disorders are common and typically first present in general medical or neurological settings. Presentations vary from mild to severe and may be symptom-focused (hypochondriasis) or sign-focused (conversion disorder). This patient has a conversion disorder. Her symptoms are confined to the voluntary central nervous system. The acute disruption in her ability to walk was not associated with any known infection, trauma or physical injury and does not conform to any known neurological damage pattern. Psychological factors associated with the drama and turmoil of her husband's court appearance are highly relevant. Whilst multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis and idiopathic periodic paralysis could be considered, they are improbable. The psychological pathogenesis of a conversion symptom is that the individuals somatic symptoms represent a symbolic resolution of an unconscious conflict, thus reducing otherwise overwhelming affects (anger/rage, anxiety, depression, psychosis) and hence keeping the conflict out of conscious awareness ('primary gain'), but at a price. The external benefits of the symptom/illness behaviour may include avoidance or exemption from anxiety-provoking or threatening life experiences (e.g. a court appearance, an exam, a wedding, a job interview), an escape from responsibility, or financial compensation ('secondary gain'). Unlike malingering or the deliberate feigning or faking of symptoms of illness, which is done consciously and with intent, in conversion disorder the motivation is unconscious and unintentional. Typically the neurological findings are bizarre and atypical and do not conform to any known neurological disease, but may reflect the individual's beliefs about how neurological disease may present. Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography studies of lower limb psychogenic paralysis, show activation of inhibitory centres in the orbitofrontal and cingulate gyrus areas of the brain with associated nonactivation of the primary motor cortex, when patients were actively trying to move paralysed limbs. Psychogenic paralysis is worse when patients consciously try to move a paralysed limb and are attending to the task, but improves when their attention is distracted. Previous followup studies with conversion disorders suggested that 30% may subsequently develop organic central nervous system disease. With more thorough examination and modern sophisticated investigative technologies missed organic disease may occur in less than 10% nowadays. 'La belle indifference has no diagnostic validity and is nota criterion for diagnosis, nor is there any association with histrionic (or hysterical) personality traits, or repressed sexual conflict in the genesis of most instances of conversion disorder. Diagnosis depends on a careful history and linking a significant life event or interpersonal stress temporally to the onset of the symptoms. Previous episodes of conversion disorder, alexithymia (lack of psychological mindedness). increasing age, lower social class, a family history of physical illness and hence role models and a fear of stigmatisation if psychological disorder is acknowledged, may all predispose to a conversion disorder


Performance Guidelines

Many conversion disorders resolve spontaneously over a short period of time, especially if the onset was acute, with no specific treatment other than explanation and targetted suggestion (after a thorough history, examination and appropriate investigative workup). Other patients will need active rehabilitation, either as inpatients or as an outpatient, with physiotherapy as the mainstay of treatment. Patients with chronic or multiple sensorimotor disturbances may need treatment in specialised multidisciplinary units or psychiatric units. Patients should be told that their symptoms are real and genuine and that their neurological deficits result from loss of conscious control over the affected function due to a neurochemical disturbance. An expectation of full and complete recovery is provided in conjunction with multimodal therapy, which may include cognitive behavioural treatments antidepressants and physiotherapy. Nontoxic technologies such as ultrasound and transcranial or direct muscle magnetic stimulation may produce dramatic 'cure' of paralysis. An essential part of the treatment is a therapeutic alliance and rapport that allows the patient to recover with dignity and no loss of face. The underlying affects may then emerge and become more florid and obvious, as the weakness or other physical symptoms improve. These patients have exguisite somatic sensitivity and may develop side effects just from reading the manufacturer's package inserts from any medication that is prescribed. Adjunctive psychotropics, usually an SSRI antidepressant and/or an atypical antipsychotic, should usually be prescribed in iow fractional dosages initially and increased very gradually to the normal therapeutic range. Up to 80% of patients make a complete or substantially complete recovery from an individual episode, but 50% may relapse within 5 years.



3 Clinical Management


3-A: Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, & Public Health Alan T Rose, Michael R Kidd, and Ronald McCoy 'Disease has social as well as physical, chemical and biologic causes.' H Sigehst (1891-1957)

The term management can be used broadly to describe what the doctor does once the history and physical examination have been completed. At that stage, a firm diagnosis may not have been reached so that the next step in management may be to proceed with investigations or referral. Some of the illustrative management cases in this book begin with a statement of the diagnosis which is provided to the candidate. Others provide sufficient information for the candidate to formulate diagnostic and management plans. In others the information provided directs the candidate to undertake investigations to facilitate diagnosis, or the patient may be returning for a second consultation with results of investigations now to hand. Once the cause of the clinical presentation has been fully identified and treatment is about to begin, the emphasis is now on the formulation of a management plan by the candidate, which may include patient education and reassurance, advice and counselling, prescribing medication, recommending a procedure, onward referral, arranging hospital admission, preventive care, and followup. Separation of diagnostic and management phases allows parts of what would be regarded as a long case' in normal clinical practice to be completed within the time allowed. Management will often involve others beside the patient: a parent, spouse/partner, carer, other family members or others, such as employers. The ethical bounds of confidentiality must always be kept in mind. In complex cases, the clinician may be confronted with numerous conditions to deal with some of which may be self-limiting, some insoluble, and others with a low priority. Thus, one may have to use techniques of 'selective attention' and 'selective neglect' whereby a conscious decision is made to focus on some problems, but not on others, putting aside some for exploring at a later consultation. OBJECTIVES OF THE MANAGEMENT PHASE OF THE CONSULTATION ARE TO: • treat appropriately the patient and presenting condition; • educate the patient about the condition; • involve patients as far as possible in the management of their own conditions and ailments; • achieve compliance in therapy; • emphasise preventive opportunities; and • provide appropriate support and reassurance.



Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

THE MANAGEMENT PROCESS The following guidelines provide a sequence of steps for the management process. Not all are appropriate to every case, and there will be different emphases according to the nature of the clinical problem. The doctor should: •

Tell the patient the diagnosis. ~ The medical term as well as the common or lay name should be given (e.g. Herpes zoster/shingles). An offer to write the medical term down should be made. The use of medical abbreviations should be avoided (e.g. AMI).

Reassure the patient if the condition is minor, or advise the patient of appropriate serious concerns in a nonthreatening and supportive way. ~ An anxious patient may not absorb detailed information adequately before being given time to consider the implications of an important or serious diagnosis

Establish the patient's knowledge, understanding and attitude regarding the condition. ~ Patients are usually reticent to admit ignorance of a condition and need encouragement to make inquiries (because of concern about wasting the doctor's time).

Educate the patient about the condition. ~ Correct any incorrect beliefs. ~ Supplement existing knowledge to a level appropriate to the needs of the patient and the doctor. ~ The use of a diagram, model, or the patient's X-rays, ultrasounds or scans, will often facilitate effective communication.

Answer the patient's questions. These may reveal misunderstandings which require further explanation. The doctor should exhibit tolerance to repetition of questions, and be prepared to repeat or complete the provision of information at a subsequent consultation.

Propose therapy within an appropriate timeframe. ~ Immediate, including when no action is required. Hospital admission may be the most important action to be taken. ~ Longterm, if the illness is chronic or recurrent.

~ Preventive, which may be specific and may require lifestyle change. Refer as required to a medical specialist or allied health professional. The standard of written referrals is often inadequate. Referrals can be given to the patients to carry or sent separately. Enclosing copies of relevant investigations and other medical reports is advisable. When considering the degree of urgency of the referral it should be remembered that few patients feel they have minor problems in which long delays are acceptable. Candidates in the AMC clinical examination need to recognise that referral to a specialist is not sufficient action, unless the candidate indicates why the referral is necessary, and what action the specialist is likely to take.

Supplement and reinforce the information already given during discussion by providing written instructions, or by supplying leaflets and brochures.

Counsel the patient or relative as required (see also Section 1-A).

Arrange followup — this may include an offer to see another member of the patients family, with the patient's consent. Patients should leave the consultation with a clear understanding of whether the doctor wishes to review this episode of illness, by what means and when.


3-A Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

If investigations have been ordered, it is important for the doctor to review these, and to inform the patient of the results, at a subsequent consultation, or by telephone or letter. Unexpected adverse results should be conveyed by further interview, rather than by telephone. Overlooking to inform a patient of serious adverse results can have medicolegal complications, even when the patient has been instructed to ring to check for results and failed to do so.

THERAPEUTICS Therapeutics is the selection and use of pharmaceutical agents in the treatment and prevention of ill health and in the maintenance of an individual's health status. Australians are fortunate to have a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme which provides federal government subsidies to patients for prescribed approved medicines (outside of public hospitals) by registered medical practitioners who hold a preserver's number issued by the federal health department. Costs to patients are further reduced by concessions to certain income and age groups and ex-service personnel — 'safety net' levels also apply to individual's/family's annual expenditure on prescribed medicines. Candidates for the AMC examinations are advised to be familiar with the 'Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits' handbook updated three times a year by the Australian government and issued free to registered doctors, dentists and pharmacists. It contains a list of all subsidised pharmaceuticals classified by disease categories, similarities of actions, generic and trade names, form, prescription quantities and their cost to the government.

The use of pharmaceuticals in therapy usually begins once a positive diagnosis has been made. Exceptions are where relief of severe pain is necessary before the diagnosis has been established or proven (renal colic, biliary colic), when a therapeutic trial using medication can confirm a strongly suspected diagnosis (gout, polymyalgia rheumatica), or when medication is given before a diagnosis has been confirmed because early treatment is necessary to avoid serious, even life-threatening consequences (temporal arteritis, meningococcal septicaemia).

Some items require government approval before prescribing because of their high cost or risk of adverse reactions. All these considerations have an effect on what pharmaceutical item is selected by the doctor for the treatment of a particular condition. Candidates are also referred to a series of publications entitled 'Therapeutic Guidelines', each covering a different body system. They contain regularly updated advice from dedicated consensus groups on the current therapy for most diseases, and are invaluable aids. Australians also self-medicate with 'over-the-counter' items available from pharmacies and health food or natural lifestyle outlets. Knowledge by the doctor of the use of these substances by patients can assist in understanding the patient's attitude to sickness and health, awareness of possible drug interactions and the possibility of noncompliance.


3-A Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

Patient perception of the effectiveness of medications (e.g. the use of antibiotics for viral infections), varies markedly. Patients often attribute their recovery to medications rather than to spontaneous resolution. Also important in considering drug therapy, is the need to treat more than one condition in the same patient (e.g. a diabetic patient who is hypertensive and has hyperlipidaemia). Polypharmacy is common in older age groups where several chronic conditions are being treated simultaneously, or when a patient on longterm medication develops an acute illness which demands additional medication. Patients may be confused when medications are added, existing regimens are altered or dosages changed. Patients may also be uncertain which of their medications relates to which of their ailments and be mistaken about the timing or frequency regimens of their medication. These shortcomings need to be understood by the doctor who must instruct the patient carefully. This may include writing the instructions down. The situation is compounded by patients attending multiple doctors. Patients will not necessarily volunteer what medications they are on to a second doctor, even when referred for specialist care. The creation of medication lists on a patient's computer-generated medical record has not replaced personal communication and enquiry about medication from the doctor to the patient. Pharmacists have limited capacity to detect inappropriate prescribing because patients use different pharmacies, and because it is unethical for a pharmacist to ask a patient what diagnosis has been made by the doctor. Iatrogenic illness has steadily increased because of polypharmacy, drug interactions, and patient confusion over medication dosage, together with adverse reactions, allergies and idiosyncrasies which may be associated with the use of any medication. TAKING A 'DRUG' HISTORY Diagnostic consultations often require a 'drug' history, as follows: • • •

‘Do you take now or in the past any prescription or over-the-counter medicines?' 'What for, and were they helpful or did you have any side-effects?' 'Do you have any allergies to medications?'

If a history of allergy is given, establish details and severity to determine risk of anaphylaxis, for example to penicillin. Always consider whether reactions, side effects or drug interactions may be contributing to symptoms (for example, asthma, claudication or cardiac failure from Beta receptor blocking agents; or cough from ACE inhibitors). Of particular importance are the effects of some antibiotics on the efficacy of oral contraception, and drugs which accentuate or decrease anticoagulant actions of warfarin. The proprietary publication MI MS, updated six times annually and circulated to medical practitioners is a very useful guide to such effects, as are databases on office personal computers. Assessment of knowledge of therapeutics frequently takes place in management consultations The use of pharmaceuticals in therapy usually begins once a positive diagnosis has been made. Exceptions are where relief of severe pain is necessary before the diagnosis has been established or proven (renal colic, biliary colic), when a therapeutic trial using medication can confirm a strongly suspected diagnosis (gout, polymyalgia rheumatica), or when medication is given before a diagnosis has been confirmed because early treatment is necessary to avoid serious, even life-threatening consequences (temporal arteritis, meningococcal septicaemia).


3-A Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

The first step is for the doctor to select the correct therapeutic agents and name them by generic or proprietary name and then comply with any government restrictions on use decide on dose, form, route and time of administration and ensure that a sufficient supply (which may include repeats) is ordered. These decisions are either written or processed onto personalised numbered prescription forms supplied by the government. These are the instructions which the patient takes to a pharmacy to obtain the medicine. As emphasised above it is the doctor's responsibility to be aware of significant side effects (unwanted symptoms from the drug, potential adverse reactions or drug interactions), and to advise patients or relatives accordingly. It is at the doctor's discretion as to how much of such information should be discussed with individual patients, but pharmacists are required to offer this information to patients, sometimes in printed form. A major objective of the doctor in therapeutics is to achieve patient compliance in the use of medication. The doctor's function of prescribing medication is a complex process dependent not only on knowledge of available therapies for specific diseases, but also on aspects of patient behaviour. Often a wide range of therapeutic agents is applicable to a single condition (e.g. hypertension) where therapeutic pharmacology is complex. Fifty different generic products (classified into 22 different categories) are listed on the PBS for the treatment of hypertension. Most of these agents have several proprietary names. In the MIMS therapeutic classification index, 21 different system and function groupings are listed, each with numerous (up to 14) subcategories. The pharmaceutical companies employ many strategies for marketing their particular product to doctors. More authoritative and referenced information about new drugs, indications, side effects, adverse reactions and interactions is available in 'Australian Prescribe? (also online) circulated free to all doctors in Australia by the Commonwealth Government. Drug usage and dosage need modification in the following circumstances: • Pregnancy — drugs potentially harmful to the fetus, particularly those with teratogenic potential, must be avoided. • Children correct dosage is especially important in infants and small children and must be individualised and based on weight. • Elderly patients — drug tolerance is reduced increasing risks of overdosage (e.g. postural hypotension from antihypertensives). • Impaired organ function — especially liver failure or renal insufficiency. • Previous portal-systemic shunting operations. • The most commonly prescribed drugs cover a wide range, and include blood lipid-lowering agents, antiangina agents, antihypertensives, ACE inhibitors, proton-pump inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), bronchodilator aerosols, diuretics, sedatives and anxiolytics, together with antibiotics.



Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

PUBLIC HEALTH MANAGEMENT Medical practitioners have a central role in public health and the prevention of disease To be effective in this role, clinicians need to be •

opportunistic in offering preventive care when patients present with other problems or concerns;

anticipatory in routinely assessing the preventive care needs of their patients;

proactive in targeting preventive care most intensively to high risk individuals; and

reaching all of their patients, especially those who are least likely to seek out assistance.

This involves looking beyond the individual consultation to the population of patients we serve. For example, to be effective in immunisation or screening, clinicians must reach a large proportion of patients in their practice or community. To do this effectively can be difficult. Each preventive activity uses up some of the clinicians' available time to spend with their patients, and therefore each activity must be based upon sound research evidence of what is effective. Clinicians therefore need to understand which preventive activities are recommended as the costs may outweigh the benefits when assessed by carefully designed research studies. Candidates can access Guidelines on Preventive Activities from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners website ( These guidelines only include activities of relevance where research has shown a demonstrated benefit. One of the challenges for clinicians is to ensure access to preventive care for all their patients. Some groups have increased risk of diseases because of social or other factors. The links between poor health and socioeconomic disadvantage include a relationship between mortality, social class and how connected people are to their communities. The opportunities for health are affected by where people live, their skills, their communities and lifestyles. Poorer health makes disadvantaged groups major users of general practice and they are also the lowest users of preventive care services. Social and economic factors influencing health include: level of education; occupational status; employment status; income; place of residence and migration. Candidates need also to understand the special public health and preventive issues facing Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. The poor health of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders has many causes including social and economic factors and the history of colonisation, and is also exacerbated by poor access to preventive treatment and late intervention, with many cases of chronic disease only diagnosed when complications are already present. Notification of infectious diseases is an important public health responsibility for all clinicians. Candidates should know which diseases are notifiable to public health authorities and how they are to be reported. Recent Australian experience with SARS and related epidemics have emphasised the importance of knowing how to contact local public health authorities. Candidates should be aware of how to contact relevant public health authorities in the event of requiring assistance and advice in issues of public safety. Alan T Rose, Michael R Kidd and Ronald McCoy


3-A Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

3-A Management Objectives, Therapeutics, Prevention and Public Health Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 090-100 90

Acute right-sided pain and haematuria in a 25-year-old man


Faecal soiling in a 5-year-old boy


Psoriasis in a 30-year-old man


Temporal arteritis in a 58-year-old woman


Acute idiopathic facial nerve palsy ('Bell Palsy') in a 40-year-old man


Dysuria and urinary frequency in a 40-year-old man


Eclampsia in a 22-year-old primigravida at 38 weeks of gestation


An abnormal glucose tolerance test (GTT) in a 34-year-old primigravida


Bed-wetting by a 5-year-old boy


Acute gout in a 48-year-old man


Request for repeat benzodiazepine prescription from a 25-year-old man



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 090 Acute right-sided pain and haematuria in a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This 25-year-old man is being seen in the hospital Emergency Department with a first episode of severe right-sided abdominal pain. The pain came on two hours earlier and was so severe that the patient writhed in agony unable to relieve his symptoms. The pain started in the right side of his back and radiated into his right groin and testicle. He is now free of pain. He has had no pain like this previously and has been in good general health. Physical examination findings are normal, except that his urine is positive for blood on chemical testing. There is no loin or other tenderness. You have just finished examining him.



Determine the most likely diagnosis and discuss initial investigations with the examiner.

Explain the diagnosis to the patient.

Outline your management plan, and any further investigations required, to the patient.

You will not need to take any additional history. There is no need for you to ask the examiner about any other findings on clinical examination.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 090 can be found on page 500



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 091 Faecal soiling in a 5-year-old boy CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Mark, a five-year-old boy, is brought to see you in a general practice setting, because for the past six weeks he has been soiling his pants, with increasing frequency, with foul-smelling semifluid faeces. It is now happening almost every day and he is being teased at school. His parent cannot tell you much about his bowel habits as he now attends to his own toilet needs when he feels like it.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further focused history from the parent. • Ask the examiner for the appropriate findings on examination of the child which would be relevant to your diagnosis. • Explain your diagnosis to the parent and advise on management. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 091 can be found on page 503


092 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 092 Psoriasis in a 30-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. You are seeing a 30-year-old man who works as a bank teller. He has consulted you about a rash on the extensor surfaces of both elbows and both knees, over the sternal and lower back areas, and in the scalp. It first appeared after a motor accident six months ago in which he suffered a fractured femur. The patient remembers that his father, now deceased, used to be bothered by a chronic rash. It has been getting steadily worse over the last few months with some improvement following the use of cream obtained from the local pharmacist (Egopsoryl TA®). This has helped the rash on his body but not on elbows, knees and in the hair. Examination has revealed the typical lesions of plaque type psoriasis. The plaques vary in size from a few mm to several cm. They are raised, pink and covered with a silvery waxy scale. The nails are not affected. The level of severity for this patient's psoriasis should be regarded as moderately severe. You are about to discuss the disease and its management with the patient. The photograph shows details of the skin lesions on the knees.


Explain the nature of his condition to the patient

Advise the patient about management.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 092 can be found on page 507




093 and


Condition 093 Temporal arteritis in a 58-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. This 58-year-old woman has consulted you about the recent onset (two weeks) of right-sided headache gradually becoming more and more severe, and which is now constant. Over the last few days, the patient has also had a tight feeling in the muscles on the right hand side of the face when chewing. On physical examination you noted tenderness and tortuosity over the right temporal artery as illustrated. Its pulsation cannot be felt as well as that of the temporal artery on the left. There were no other abnormal physical findings. The patient is normotensive.

093. FIGURE 1. Side view of right temple CONDITION

Based on this information you believe that the most likely cause of the patient's symptoms is temporal arteritis ('cranial arteritis' or 'giant cell arteritis'). Brief Patient Profile Married, works as an accountant. Nonsmoker. No significant past or family history except for occasional migraine. Has been taking Panadol® (paracetamol 500 mg) for the headache. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Explain the diagnosis, and its implications, to the patient. • Advise the patient about management — both immediate and longterm. This could include any investigations you believe are necessary.

You do not need to take any further history. You have just concluded your physical examination and are about to advise the patient of your diagnosis and management plans. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 093 can be found on page 510



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 094 Acute idiopathic facial nerve palsy ('Bell Palsy') in a 40-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are consulting in a general practice. You have just completed taking a history from and examining a 40-year-old man who is very upset because of the sudden onset of paralysis of his face. He felt discomfort behind the left ear last night and on waking today found that the left side of his face would not move. He arranged an urgent appointment with you. Examination confirms a near complete left 7th cranial nerve facial palsy of lower motor neurone type. The accompanying illustrations show the findings. There are no other abnormal neurological or other signs including normal ear canals and tympanic membranes. The patients parotid salivary glands show no abnormality. You have made a confident clinical diagnosis of acute idiopathic facial nerve palsy (Bell Palsy') YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Explain the problem to the patient.

Advise the patient of the management you would advise.

Respond to any questions asked by the patient. The patient is very upset and concerned that this may be a stroke, and wishes to know the cause, whether recovery will occur, what treatment and tests he should have and how long it will take to recover.

Time should not be wasted taking further history or asking for any other physical findings. The main issues to be addressed are patient counselling and management.


Blowing out cheeks


These illustrations show his facial appearance in repose and with smiling and movements. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 094 can be found on page 512



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 095 Dysuria and urinary frequency in a 40-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This 40-year-old postman is married with two children and has consulted you today in a general practice setting complaining of the gradual onset of dysuria and frequency of micturition over the last three days. There has been no urethral discharge and no history of extramarital sexual contact. On examination the patient is afebrile and you found no abnormality on examination, including rectal examination of the prostate. A midstream urine specimen was collected and the following office laboratory tests were done on the urine • Dipstix — positive for protein, leucocytes and nitrites: negative for blood, glucose and ketones. • Microscopy of uncentrifuged specimen — shows large numbers of leucocytes and bacilli. The patient usually keeps in excellent health. He is aware that he is sensitive to penicillin but otherwise his past history, family history, habits, and use of medication have no relevance to this problem.

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Advise the patient of your diagnosis. • Advise the patient of your immediate management. • Discuss the condition and answer any questions the patient may ask.

CONDITION 095. FIGURE 1. Urine test strip

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 095 can be found on page 519



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 096 Eclampsia in a 22-year-old primigravida at 38 weeks gestation CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This 22-year-old primigravida has been seeing you in a general practice clinic for her shared antenatal care since early in her pregnancy. She is now at 38 weeks of gestation. The pregnancy has been progressing perfectly normally until now. Whilst in the waiting room along with her mother waiting to see you for her routine antenatal visit, she has had a g r a n d m a l fit. She had brought a urine specimen with her to the appointment. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take any further relevant history you require from the mother of the patient, who is in the waiting room.

Ask the examiner about the specific findings you would look for on general and obstetric examination and any office test results which should be available to you.

Advise the mother of the patient, in lay terms, of the diagnosis and the subsequent management you would advise for her daughter.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 096 can be found on page 522

Condition 097 An abnormal glucose tolerance test (GTT) in a 34-year-old primigravida CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This patient is a 34-year-old obese primigravida whom you are managing in a country general practice. She has had a screening glucose tolerance test performed at 28 weeks of gestation. This revealed a fasting blood glucose of 7.5 mmol/L and a two hour level of 9.5 mmol/L (Normal levels — fasting < 5.5 mmol/L; two hour < 8.0 mmol/L). Progress of her pregnancy has until now been normal. No other investigations have been done apart from routine screening tests at the first antenatal visit which were all normal. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take any further relevant history you require. This should be limited to 1-2 minutes only.

Ask the examiner for the findings you would expect on general and obstetric examination.

Advise the patient of the diagnosis you have made.

Advise the patient of the management you would give in the remainder of the pregnancy.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 097 can be found on page 525



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 098 Bed-wetting by a 5-year-old boy CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Johnny, a five-year-old boy, is brought to see you in a general practice by his mother because of a bed-wetting problem, which occurs nightly. He has • been fully continent by day since he was three years old: and has • previously been treated unsuccessfully with nightly amitriptyline (Tryptanol®). The wetting exasperated his parents initially, but they now accept that it is involuntary and both parents are keen to help him in any way possible. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Ask the mother for any further relevant history. • Tell the examiner what relevant examination findings you would seek. • Advise Johnny's mother how you will further assess and manage his condition. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 098 can be found on page 528

Condition 099 Acute gout in a 48-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are about to see a 48-year-old taxi driver who consulted you earlier today in a general practice setting about continuous, severe, worsening, throbbing pain in the right first metatarsophalangeal joint, which commenced two days ago. The joint was swollen and felt hot. The overlying skin was red and shiny and the joint was exquisitely tender. There is a history of previous attacks over the last two years. These have been diagnosed as gout. Each time response to treatment was satisfactory. You took blood for serum urate estimation. The patient has returned to find out the result (which was 0.74 mmol/L) and for treatment. The normal serum urate range for males is 0.20-0.45 mmol/L. Urinalysis is normal. The patient has always kept in good health apart from mild hypertension diagnosed two years ago for which he takes hydrochlorothiazide. Over the past two days he has taken two or three aspirin tablets for the pain. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Advise treatment of the acute attack. • Discuss further management of his condition. There is no need for you to take any additional history or perform any examination. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 099 can be found on page 531



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 100 Request for repeat benzodiazepine prescription from a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. You saw this patient for the first time one week ago and provided a prescription for his usual sleeping tablet, the benzodiazepine oxazepam (Serepax®) 30 mg daily, 25 tablets. At that time, you were satisfied there were no comorbid problems such as depression. The patient has returned today for another prescription. The patient's mental state is unchanged.


Evaluate the situation by taking a focused history.

Outline to the patient the nature of the problem you have identified and proposed management.

Answer any questions the examiner asks you.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 100 can be found on page 534


3-A Management Objectives: Therapeutics, Prevention, and Public Health

3-A Management Objectives, Therapeutics, Prevention and Public Health Performance Guidelines MCAT 090-100 90

Acute right-sided pain and haematuria in a 25-year-old man


Faecal soiling in a 5-year-old boy


Psoriasis in a 30-year-old man


Temporal arteritis in a 58-year-old woman


Acute idiopathic facial nerve palsy ('Bell Palsy') in a 40-year-old man


Dysuria and urinary frequency in a 40-year-old man


Eclampsia in a 22-year-old primigravida at 38 weeks of gestation


An abnormal glucose tolerance test (GTT) in a 34-year-old primigravida


Bed-wetting by a 5-year-old boy


Acute gout in a 48-year-old man

100 Request for repeat benzodiazepine prescription from a 25-year-old man


090 Performance Guidelines

Condition 090 Acute right-sided pain and haematuria in a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of the natural history of urinary calculi, and ability to diagnose and manage a patient with a recent history of renal pain associated with a stone in the ureter. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are aged 25 years and about two hours ago you developed severe right-sided back and abdominal pain. The pain was gripping, severe and constant, with episodes of increased severity each few minutes. The pain extended from the loin to your right testicle. You have been writhing in agony with this pain, and never experienced anything like it before. Fortunately it gradually eased and ceased after about 30 minutes. You have come to the Emergency Department and have seen the doctor. The doctor has listened to your story and taken a full physical examination and you have given him a sample of urine for analysis. The pain has now settled. The doctor will explain to you the diagnosis and proposed management. You have not heard about renal/ureteric colic or a stone passing from the kidney down the ureter (the tube between the kidney and bladder), but have heard of kidney stones. Questions to ask unless already covered and appropriate responses from doctor/candidate (Answers in parentheses after the question): •

‘Do / need to be admitted to hospital?' (Not at this stage)

'Will the pain come back?' (Possibly, if the stone is still in the ureter). 'Why did I get the stone?' — Ask this if the candidate suggests a stone is the cause of the

pain. • •

‘How will I know if I have passed the stone?' (You will strain your urine). 'What happens if the stone does not pass?' (An instrument may have to be inserted to retrieve it).

'When do I see you again?' (Followup in a couple of days for investigation results).

The candidate should explain that you have a small stone that is passing down your ureter. It may take one to two days to pass the stone. You will be given strong painkillers for the pain in case it recurs. Most stones pass spontaneously. You are unlikely to have future problems, but tests on your urine and blood will be done to check this. The investigations required are likely to include: •

Culture of the urine to exclude infection.

An ultrasound of the kidney may be performed looking for evidence of blockage of the ureter caused by the stone.

Imaging by computed tomography (CT) to define the size and site of the stone.

Examination of the stone after you have passed it to determine the type of stone present.

Other blood tests and specialist referral may be required in followup.


090 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • The candidate should indicate the pain is almost certainly due to renal colic, due to the fact a small stone is being passed down the right ureter. No need for pethidine now as pain has gone. If pain returns, give pethidine or Panadeine forte® or a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID). • Give patient a brief description (draw diagram) of the anatomy of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. • Pass all urine into a container and strain (save any stones found for analysis). • Imaging by computed tomography (CT) abdomen or plain X-ray, to identify the site of the stone and use for subsequent assessment. • Check urine for infection. • Check serum uric acid, and serum calcium, urea and creatinine. • Ultrasound to see if hydronephrosis is present is an acceptable and appropriate test, but definitive imaging is by helical abdominal CT which will pick up very small stones. • Advise high fluid intake. Refer to urologist if stone is not passed in 48 hours or pain recurs and worsens. He may need an open operation, endoscopic removal, or ultrasound destruction if not passed spontaneously (depends on size and site of stone). • Followup to check progress. KEY ISSUES • Diagnosis of renal 'colic', probably due to a stone in right ureter. • Explanation of the problem to the patient incorporating rapport with the patient and communication skills. • Providing an appropriate plan of management (including provision for further pain relief). • Appropriate choice of investigations. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to make a diagnosis of renal (ureteric) colic. • Failure to arrange appropriate investigations. COMMENTARY Renal and ureteric pain ('renal colic') frequently accompanies urinary calculi passing from kidney to bladder via the ureter. Although the term, renal 'colic', is hallowed by long usage (as is biliary 'colic'), in neither instance is the pain usually of true 'colicky' type. Renal 'colic' is often an intense, constant, agonising pain which makes the patient writhe and change position in an attempt to gain relief, and does not wax and wane intermittently in a sine-wave pattern, rising through a crescendo of intensity, and then diminishing over a similar period, with regular intervals of relief from pain in between episodes of cramping pain. This is the pattern of true 'colic', as seen in intestinal colic or uterine colic. Renal pain can vary in intensity but not with such cyclical regularity.


090 Performance Guidelines

Renal (and ureteric) pain is usually recognised by its character as described above, its site (which can be over a wide area from posteriorly and laterally in the loin and flank, to the anterior abdomen, iliac fossa and suprapubically). Pain can also radiate to the penis and testes, and to the upper thigh. Associated urinary symptoms and the presence of blood in the urine (macroscopic or microscopic) help confirm the diagnosis. Investigations of presumed renal colic due to stone are by diagnostic imaging. Most urinary calculi (80%) are radio-opaque so plain abdominal X-ray may be diagnostic (as illustrated), however small stones may be missed and differentiation from pelvic phleboliths impossible. The preferred investigation is a helical CT without intravenous contrast (as illustrated), which will pick up any small stones and also identify urinary tract obstructions. The majority of stones will pass spontaneously, so that treatment is usually expectant while providing pain relief for recurrence of pain. Indications for intervention are large stones not likely to pass spontaneously, calculi associated with uncontrolled infection, and persistence of pain without progress. Radiolucent stones occur with hyperuricaemia and in some types of familial and metabolic calculi. It is prudent in each patient with a urinary calculus to check for hypercalcaemiato pick up cases of primary hyperparathyroidism presenting as renal calculi, a common mode of presentation of parathyroid adenoma. Full investigation for a primary cause is mandatory in patients with a history of recurrent calculi.

CONDITION 090. FIGURE 1. Plain X-ray showing opaque ureteric calculi


CONDITION 090. FIGURE 2. Helical CT showing obstructing right ureteric calculus

091 Performance Guidelines

Condition 091 Faecal soiling in a 5-year-old boy AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose and manage the problem of encopresis in a young child secondary to constipation and faecal retention and to advise the concerned parent on management. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: The doctor is required to question you further, seeking a possible cause for your child's soiling. Below are a series of answers to possible questions you may be asked' • You are a very concerned parent about your child's constant soiling over the last six weeks. • This is most unlike him as he was fully toilet trained by three. • He is embarrassed by it, especially at school where the other children are calling him names. Sometimes he hides his soiled underpants. • This has been occurring for the last six weeks or so. He had an episode three months ago when his bowel motions were hard and difficult to pass and caused him bleeding and pain when he went to the toilet. However he seemed to get over that with some laxatives. • There is no abdominal pain. • He has had no vomiting. • His appetite is good and he has a well balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. • He has not lost any weight. • His urine is normal and he has no daytime or evening urinary incontinence. • Except for the recent teasing, he enjoys school and he has lots of friends. His progress at school is excellent and he enjoys the teaching he has had this year • He has a good relationship with his younger sibling. • His general health is excellent. • He is the elder of two children. The home situation is very stable with both parents very active in the raising of the children. Once the doctor has finished questioning you, the examiner will provide examination findings on your child, then the candidate is required to explain to you what is wrong and the principles of management. Questions to ask unless already covered: • 'What can we do to treat this?' • 'Surely he must smell It when he does It in his pants? Doesn't he know he is soiling himself?’


091 Performance Guidelines

Examination findings — provide findings specifically requested •

a shy boy;

normal height and weight on 50th centile;

abdomen is soft;

faecal masses are felt in the lower guadrants;

no other abnormality;

anus appears normal, with some faecal staining adjacent;

no anal fissure is apparent; and

on rectal examination the rectum is packed with firm faeces.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should explain that: •

The most likely diagnosis is chronic constipation which from the history is most likely secondary to the probable anal fissure he had three months previously. The constipation leads to chronic dilatation of the rectum and lower colon.

Liguefaction of the faeces leads to soiling from overflow, but faecal masses remain.

The process often starts as an anal fissure, giving pain, and the child holds on fearing defaecation will be painful.

Other aetiologies should be explored (e.g. emotional disturbances at home or school). None is apparent, and so constipation with overflow is the most likely diagnosis.

Management •

Empty large bowel by whatever means necessary. Try high dose oral laxative, enema or suppositories.

Explain that if this is not successful he may need oral gastrointestinal lavage (Golytely®).

Next objective is to maintain regular bowel habit by use of laxatives and faecal softeners. Therapy needs to continue for many months to allow resolution of the megacolon and to ensure that the passage of motions is not painful.

Review to ensure constipation is not recurring.

See regularly to encourage and support parent and child in their efforts.

Interaction with patient •

Explanation with appropriate language to parent to discuss the matters with the child. Behavioural technigues such as a star chart to reward successful defaecation should be encouraged.

Suggest regular toileting after meals for a set period of time; an egg timer is suitable for timing. KEY ISSUES

Explanation of diagnosis

Initial empting of rectum and colon.

Need for prolonged treatment and followup


091 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERROR • Suggesting that sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy is required at this stage.

COMMENTARY Constipation in young children is a very common problem presenting to primary care physicians and paediatricians alike. The great majority of cases are nonorganic, that is they are related to an episode, in many cases associated with the passage of a hard stool, which may make the child wary of passing a bowel motion subsequently. This can last for a varying length of time. Constipation can be associated with a mucosal tear or anal fissure which distresses the child, further compounding the problem. If one is able to recognise this pattern early and treat it with faecal softeners allowing the fissure to heal, the episode may be short lived. Major problems may develop, however, if the child remains fearful of going to the toilet because of anticipation of pain and this compounds the situation leading to chronic constipation, toilet refusal and in many cases overflow encopresis. This may be more difficult to treat. Young children may also develop a fear of the toilet during toilet training if they are required to perch on a toilet seat without support and this also may lead to deferral and subsequent constipation. In many children, constipation is secondary to an emotional upset or trauma, whether this is at home, school or elsewhere. Careful enquiry is necessary to seek information indicating that this may exist. The aims of management are therefore to: • Exclude any possible organic pathology. • Explore any precipitating features. • Provide adequate explanation of the processes involved for both parent and child with a plan of action to alleviate the problem. The hallmark of care of these children is a thorough and careful history which, in the majority of cases, will clarify the probable aetiology. The history should include a thorough enquiry into the child's environment. While organic conditions like Hirschsprung disease may need to be considered, Hirschsprung disease has usually presented by this age and usually has a history of constipation from birth, often with a delay in the passage of meconium. However, if there is doubt or suspicion of this condition, a paediatric surgical opinion should be sought to arrange bowel biopsies. The history should include a thorough enquiry into aspects of the child's environment including diet, general health, growth pattern, the family dynamics, progress at school, relationship with peers, and the like. From this information a likely diagnosis may be evident. Treatment is essentially careful reassurance and explanation to parent and child of the nature of the condition, if organic pathology is not suspected. This should include a comprehensive explanation about how constipation has developed, preferably with illustrative drawings. To achieve success is very time consuming in resistant cases, and the doctor's role is to be supportive of the efforts of the parent and child, riding with them the inevitable ups and downs towards success.


091 Performance Guidelines

The bowel however usually needs to be emptied of the retained faeces in the most painless and noninvasive manner possible. This may need at times either simple faecal softeners or more vigorous treatment with microenemas, or aperients from above. In severe cases, manual disimpaction under general anaesthesia may be necessary. Once the bowel is empty the faeces are kept soft with faecal softeners, which preferably do not stimulate the bowel, and a retraining program is instigated. This may vary from child to child, particularly if toilet phobia is a major issue. Many methods are available and are often successful. The programmes used are described well in standard textbooks, and are available as Clinical Guidelines from most major Children's Hospitals. Parent literature is freely available and for the older children story books addressing the situation in terms they can understand are available. It cannot be emphasised too much that the clinician's main role is the support of the child and family over the period of time required to achieve success. Without this support and encouragement, the programme is doomed to failure.


092 Performance Guidelines

Condition 092 Psoriasis in a 30-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of psoriasis and its management, and the ability to counsel the patient about a chronic, cosmetically disturbing condition, which cannot be completely cured. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are suffering from psoriasis. You have a scaly skin rash for which you have just consulted this doctor. The doctor has taken your history and examined you and will now discuss the condition with you. You are concerned that it may spread and wonder if a recent serious motor accident was the cause. You find the ailment and the ointments distasteful because of the unpleasant smell and staining of clothing and you are worried your wife may become infected. You are hoping to receive reassurance that it can be cured. You wonder whether you should see a skin specialist. Questions to ask unless already covered: • 'What causes this?' • 'Can it be cured?' • 'Will it spread to other parts of my body?' • 'I s it infectious?' • 'Can it affect my health in other ways?' • 'Could I pass it on to my children?' • ‘Does it have anything to do with my accident?' • 'I've heard that there is a chemist somewhere who can cure psoriasis?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Approach to patient • The candidate should show interest and concern, listen to and deal with the patient's concerns and give clear instructions, answering questions directly. Explanation of the diagnosis • Description of which parts of the body can be affected (extensor surfaces of elbows and knees, sternal and sacral areas, scalp and nails — but can involve other parts of the skin). • Aetiology, nature, associations, expected course, availability of treatments, prognosis. Good effect of sunlight if not overexposed. Psoriatic arthritis could be mentioned. • Point out that physical or emotional stress can cause flare up. Diet has no effect. Exercise and reduction in alcohol intake may be beneficial. Use of sunscreen applications during summer.


092 Performance Guidelines

Management — Immediate •

The candidate should exhibit a general understanding of the principles and modalities of treatment and that these are applied according to severity. Exact details, generic or trade names, strengths (except for steroids) and doses are not expected although candidates should indicate that these will be ascertained if required.

The candidate should include an offer to refer to a dermatologist. If this is the only management advice given, the patient should ask for more information about treatment and expect discussion of different types of local creams and lotions.

Management — Longterm •

Monitoring of progress and repeats of medications are required. Review during flare-ups with closer involvement if systemic therapy becomes necessary. Review if secondary infection is suspected. Liaison with dermatologist.

Counselling •

Ability to achieve patient understanding of the chronicity, variability and difficult therapeutic nature of the condition. Despite this, reassurance that the condition can usually be brought under control.

This requires the establishment of trust and confidence, backed up by clinical knowledge, a willingness to listen to the patient's views about cause and treatments suggested by others, and recognition of when referral to a dermatologist should be made using a patient-centred as well as disease-centred approach.


Approach to patient: must listen to and acknowledge patient's concerns and provide support and encouragement.

Management: knowledge of principles of different local measures. Extent of treatment proportional to severity.

Counselling and explanation of diagnosis: must acknowledge chronic nature of psoriasis and that treatment can be demanding and will be prolonged. Must be honest and supportive.

CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to explain appropriate principles of treatment.


092 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY Aetiology of psoriasis is unknown but there is a familial predisposition. Onset is most commonly between 10 and 40 years but can occur at any age. There is increased epidermal cell proliferation, with vascular proliferation and inflammation in the upper dermis. Psoriasis affects 2-4% of the population. It is not infective and waxes and wanes in intensity. It can be drug-induced, e.g. lithium, Beta blockers, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine; and it can be precipitated by infections, trauma or emotional stress. The lesions can become secondarily infected. Diet is not a factor. There is no complete cure but in most cases psoriasis can be reasonably controlled with therapy. Treatment should be at an appropriate level for the type, site and severity of the condition. Psoriasis can be associated with a specific type of arthritis, mainly affecting the hands. In mild cases, emollients or a weak topical corticosteroid may suffice, but disfiguring psoriasis may warrant the use of antimetabolites or immunosuppressants following the use of more potent topical corticosteroids. Complicated or difficult cases need specialist care and open lines of communication between general practitioner, dermatologist, any other medical attendants and the patient. • For mild to moderate plaque psoriasis — use topical therapy — dithranol, tars, corticosteroids, keratolytics, and emollients. Occlusive dressings increase their effect. ~ Dithranol — an antiproliferative agent — is very effective. Salicylic acid can be combined with tars and dithranol. ~ Tars — anti-inflammatory but can stain and smell which are disadvantages. Less when in combination (e.g. with allantoin). ~ Topical corticosteroids are more potent preparations for thicker lesions, large quantities for widespread rash. ~ Keratolytics for lifting and softening thick scale such as sulphur and salicylic acid. ~ Emollients for scaling or irritation. Harsh soaps should be avoided. ~ Calcipotriol (a vitamin D derivative that regulates growth of keratinocytes). • For psoriasis which is widespread, severe, or causing disfigurement or disability, systemic therapy is indicated such as methotrexate or acitretin or cyclosporin. Phototherapy is also often used by dermatologists.


093 Performance Guidelines

Condition 093 Temporal arteritis in a 58-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of the treatment of temporal arteritis and its most important possible sequel: visual impairment. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have advised the patient that she should ask about side effects of steroids and whether some alternative medication is preferable, as she doesn't like the idea of steroids. She should also ask about further tests such as X-ray and whether the headache might just be a simple migraine. Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'Could it be a migraine?'

'Are there any (other) complications?'

'Are you sure that my eyesight will be all right?'

'Should I see an eye specialist?'

'Isn't "cortisone" dangerous?' (If 'cortisone' or 'steroids' are recommended)

'What are its side effects?'

'How long will the headache last once treatment lasts?'

'How long will I be on "cortisone"?'

'Can this trouble affect me in any other way?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE This can become an emotive situation for the patient after being informed of the nature of the condition and the possibility of severe visual impairment. The doctor should not withhold this information, which should be given with empathy and support. Politeness, respect and consideration rather than an authoritarian approach should be demonstrated when discussing the threat of blindness and obtaining compliance with the use of corticosteroids. The doctor should listen carefully to the patient's queries and provide honest as well as accurate answers. Generating trust and confidence and giving the correct level of reassurance are also expected. Initial management plan An erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) should be arranged immediately with request for a same day report (this requires liaison with the patient who should contact the doctor later in the day). The patient should be commenced on oral prednisolone in high dose at first (60-100 mg). A stronger nonopioid analgesic than paracetamol should also be prescribed. Referral to a surgeon with a view to temporal artery biopsy should be discussed and urgent referral to an eye specialist should be advised.


093 Performance Guidelines Patient Education The aetiology and prognosis of temporal arteritis are obscure. It is a manifestation of giant cell arteritis. Confirmation by ESR or CRP (usually markedly elevated) is essential, followed in most cases by biopsy of the superficial temporal artery for confirmation because of the likely need for medium to longterm corticosteroid therapy. Commencement of oral steroid therapy before completing investigations is indicated to reduce the risk of visual impairment, especially in a case of this duration (two weeks). This patient should be seen again within 48 hours by which time significant resolution of symptoms should have occurred. Once symptoms are controlled and ESR levels fall, the prednisolone can be reduced to maintenance levels (5-10 mg three times daily). The patient should be monitored closely by continuing review of symptoms and serial ESR levels. Resolution may take up to 2-3 years. Concomitant use of H2 receptor antagonists should be considered in patients with a history of dyspepsia or peptic ulcer. KEY ISSUES • Skill in conveying unpleasant news to patient in an honest and supportive manner with guarded reassurance about the outcome. • ESR or CRP must be ordered with urgent early report requested. • Must commence prednisolone therapy immediately. • Patient counselling and education is required regarding possible biopsy, referral to eye specialist and longterm nature of the condition. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to request ESR or CRP. • Failure to commence prednisolone therapy. COMMENTARY Although this is not a common disorder, the high risk of preventable blindness and response to early treatment makes it essential knowledge. A highly probable diagnosis is possible on clinical grounds alone. Involvement of the ophthalmic artery or ciliary arteries may occur causing optic atrophy and blindness. Vision is impaired in about 50% of patients at some stage. If blindness occurs it is usually irreversible. Temporal arteritis may follow polymyalgia rheumatica in about 20% of cases. The condition is very responsive to corticosteroids which should be prescribed in high doses initially. Maintenance steroid therapy in lower dose over 2-3 years may be required, which raises the possibility of steroid-induced complications of osteopenia, hypertension, diabetes and changed facies.


094 Performance Guidelines

Condition 094 Acute idiopathic facial nerve palsy ('Bell Palsy') in a 40-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of Bell Palsy, its prognosis and its management, and skills in counselling an upset and anxious patient.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The patient has the condition as illustrated. He is very concerned, but if informed and reassured appropriately, will accept the diagnosis and management plans.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE You would expect the candidate to: •

Acknowledge the patient's distress about his appearance and to provide support and guarded reassurance, particularly reassurance that the patient has not had a stroke.

Explain the diagnosis and natural history of the condition. The cause is unknown but is consistent with inflammatory compression of the facial nerve in the temporal bone (probably viral).

Expected course — about 70% of patients completely recover within two months. First signs of recovery appear within two weeks. About 20-25% take up to six months for full recovery; and 5-10% do not recover by the end of one year. An older patient age is associated with slower recovery. Advise about immediate management: ~ Steroids are usually prescribed empirically: prednisolone 40-80 mg daily for three days then taper off and cease over the next seven days. Antiviral drugs may also be given because of its presumed viral aetiology. ~ Wear patch over left eye at night. ~ May prescribe artificial tears. ~ Review within a few days for support and monitoring. ~ Investigations are not essential but CT head would be appropriate for reassurance in view of patient anxiety about a stroke. ~ Referral to a neurologist should be offered for confirmation of diagnosis and possibly for nerve conduction studies. Referral is also appropriate for confirmation of management, because of possibility of incomplete or nonrecovery. ~ Arrange continuing followup to monitor progress, watch for symptoms of conjunctivitis and corneal injury. ~ Consider early referral to a physiotherapist as an aid to self-management strategies. There is no evidence that exercises or nerve stimulation aid recovery, but they may support patient confidence in recovery.


094 Performance Guidelines KEY ISSUES • Approach to patient — acknowledging distress about his appearance, providing support and guarded reassurance about recovery. • Initial management plan — protection of eye and possible use of steroids and antiviral agents. Offer referral to neurologist and physiotherapist. • Patient counselling about prognosis and natural history, stressing that complete recovery is usual (although not invariable). CRITICAL ERRORS • Telling patient that complete recovery always occurs. • Very unsatisfactory counselling skills displaying insensitivity in dealing with an anxious patient. COMMENTARY The most common cause of unilateral facial nerve palsy without a clear history of local injury is the condition of idiopathic acute facial nerve palsy ('Bell Palsy) Bell Palsy is of unknown aetiology and affects all ages and both sexes. Patients present with an acute or subacute onset over a few hours. Pain around the ear is followed by unilateral facial paralysis of lower motor neurone type, with complete or partial paralysis of muscles supplied by the facial nerve. The clinical features are consistent with a lesion due to inflammatory oedema and compression of the nerve within the bony canal of the petrous temporal bone. Clinical features of the lesion, if complete and all muscles equally affected are as follows (see illustrative figures): • Facial asymmetry is accompanied by loss of voluntary, emotional and associated movements. • The affected side of the face is immobile, the eyebrow drops, the lines on the forehead and nasolabial fold are smoothed out. • The palpebral fissure is wider due to the unopposed action of levator palpebrae. • Tears fail to enter the lacrimal puncta medially because they are no longer held against the conjunctivae and the eye weeps. • The direct corneal reflex is absent, but the patient appreciates the discomfort from testing and the indirect corneal reflex is present (the other eye blinks). Corneal abrasion and ulceration are significant risks. • Efforts to close the eyes cause the affected globe to roll up under the upper lid (Bell reflex). • The a/a nasi does not flare or dilate with vigorous breathing. • The lips stay in contact but cannot be pursed for whistling. When smiling, the angle of the mouth on the affected side does not move; and in repose 'wry-mouth' can be identified. • Hyperacusis in the affected ear can be troublesome when the patient is subjected to local noise. • During mastication food accumulates in the cheek and dribbling of saliva can occur from between paralysed lips. • The articulations of labial consonants (m, b, p) may be affected.


094 Performance Guidelines

Loss of taste sensation may be noted in the anterior tongue on the affected side.

The cosmetic and psychological effects of the disfigurement can be profound.

Patients with Bell Palsy are frequently concerned that they may have suffered a paralytic stroke.

Pathologic Anatomy The facial nerve supplies muscles of facial expression from scalp to neck — from occipito-frontalis in the scalp to platysma below, and including those muscles governing movement of eyebrows, eye closure, mouth, cheek and nose. The major motor root of the 7th nerve originates in the pons from the motor nucleus and fibres run in the pons in an unusual curving course around the 6th nerve nucleus before leaving the anterior surface of the mid-pons to enter the internal auditory canal with the 8th (vestibulocochlear) cranial nerve. The motor root is joined at the internal auditory meatus by the 'sensory' root, which carries afferent taste fibres from the tongue and also efferent secretomotor fibres to the lacrimal and salivary glands. Somatic sensation to the face is subserved by the 5th cranial nerve, not the 7th. Within the petrous temporal bone the nerve runs laterally to the medial wall of the tympanic cavity before bending backwards abruptly (the genu). The facial nerve then runs downwards in the facial canal on the inner wall of the tympanic cavity, giving branches to the tiny stapedius muscle of the inner ear, and giving off the chorda tympani, before emerging from the stylomastoid foramen at the base of the skull. The geniculate ganglion is the relay station for the secretomotor fibres for tears and the site of the sensory root ganglion of the taste fibres. From the geniculate ganglion run the secretomotor fibres to the lacrimal gland and submandibular salivary gland. The autonomic sensory taste fibres are carried from the tongue with the lingual nerve (carrying ordinary sensation) via chorda tympani through middle and inner ear, to the sensory facial nerve root. Facial nerve lesions below the chorda tympani (e.g. in the parotid gland) will not affect taste. The chorda tympani leaves the nerve a few millimetres above the point of exit from the stylomastoid foramen, and runs between the layers of the tympanic membrane separating outer and middle ears, and then joins the lingual nerve to the tongue, and supplies the anterior two-thirds of the tongue with taste sensation as illustrated. The motor branches of the facial nerve break into a spray of branches and run through the parotid salivary gland before emerging from its anterior border to supply the facial muscles via temporal, zygomatic, buccal, mandibular, and cervical branches as illustrated.


094 Performance Guidelines

f.m, s.f s.g. tn s.s.n. 7* m.n. rn T. s.r s b at

foramen magnum stylomastoid foramen submandibular ganglion taste nucleus - nucleus of tractus solitarius superior secretory nucleus 7th nerve motor nucleus motor root 'sensory' root stapedius buccinator chorda tympani geniculate ganglion internal auditory meatus





Anatomy of facial nerve


094 Performance Guidelines Differential Diagnoses — other causes of facial nerve palsy •

Patients with Bell Palsy are frequently concerned that they have had a stroke', or have a cerebral tumour.

Facial weakness due to 'stroke' is usually upper neurone in type and part of a hemi-paresis on the same side as the facial paralysis. Movements of the upper muscles to forehead and eyes (which are bilaterally innervated from the upper motor neurone) are spared, as may be emotional movements. However, an infarct in the pons may produce a nuclear (lower motor neurone) lesion of the facial nerve.

In Bell Palsy the motor lesion is confined to the facial nerve alone and is lower motor neurone in type.

If hearing loss or other cranial nerve lesions are associated with facial nerve palsy the diagnosis is more likely to be a cerebellopontine angle tumour (for example, auditory neurofibroma) or a vascular event from vertebrobasilar insufficiency.

If vesicles within the external ear or on the palate accompany the 7th nerve palsy the condition is viral herpes zoster infection affecting the geniculate ganglion, not Bell Palsy. This is the Ramsay Hunt syndrome, and occasionally other cranial nerves are also affected. Such patients are often elderly. Pain may precede the facial palsy and the associated herpetic eruption in the ear and sometimes on tongue or palate. Recovery of facial nerve function is rare. Prompt treatment with aciclovir may improve prognosis and diminish post-herpetic neuralgia.

If the nerve is affected within the parotid gland, this is usually due to a parotid malignancy giving partial or total lower motor palsy. Benign parotid tumours do not cause facial palsy.

Basal skull fractures of the petrous bone are another important cause of facial nerve palsy.


Left-sided facial nerve palsy Face in repose: note widening of palpebral fissure due to unopposed action of the levator of the upper lid, smoothing of facial lines and failure of eversion of mucosa of patient's left lower lip ('wry-mouth') due to paralysis of depressor anguli oris.


094 Performance Guidelines


Left-sided facial nerve palsy Attempted eye closure: note failure of left eye closure with rolling up of the eye under the upper eyelid, and accentuation of the 'wry-mouth' triangular deformity.

CONDITION 094. FIGURE 8. Left-sided

facial nerve palsy Obvious deformity when smiling: note immobile left eye and mouth musculature and absence of nasolabial fold.


094 Performance Guidelines


Left-sided facial nerve palsy Attempting to blow out cheeks: note failure of left buccinator muscle with flaccid paralysis of patient's left cheek. The patient is unable to prevent air from escaping from the mouth when he tries to build up intraoral pressure.


095 Performance Guidelines

Condition 095 Dysuria and urinary frequency in a 40-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's approach to a first time urinary tract infection in an adult male patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You consulted this doctor today because of the gradual onset of dysuria and frequency of micturition over the last three days. The doctor has examined you (including rectal examination) and asked you to provide a urine sample which was checked in the practice laboratory. You are about to receive the doctor's advice about the problem. Questions to ask unless already covered: • 'What did you find in my urine?' • 'Can this infection be treated easily?' • 'Where do these bacteria come from?' • ‘Is this the same as my wife gets?' • 'Tell me exactly what tests I should have done?' • 'Why do I need these tests?' • 'Do you think I have something seriously wrong?' • 'How long will I need to take the medication?' • 'Could it occur again?' • 'What will the urologist do?' (Ask only if referral is advised) You are not overly concerned about your condition because your wife has suffered from occasional urinary tract infections over the years which have always responded well to treatment with antibiotics. She has had no other investigations other than urine laboratory tests. You expect to recover quickly after receiving antibiotics. If the doctor indicates that further special investigations are necessary followed by referral to a urologist, be surprised and express some reluctance to undergo these procedures. If the doctor handles your reaction satisfactorily agree to follow this advice. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Approach to patient • This may appear to be a straightforward clinical situation but it requires care to avoid alarming the patient concerning the need for more investigations than just a urine culture • Give a clear explanation of the nature of the condition. • Obtain compliance in use of medication (clear instruction about frequency and duration) • Emphasise importance of followup. • Explain why further investigation is essential and obtain compliance for this.


095 Performance Guidelines Tell the patient what Is wrong A variety of terms may be used to describe a urinary tract infection but the candidate should explain that it is most likely to be in the lower urinary tract (bladder, prostate or urethra) rather than in the kidneys, because of the absence of fever and loin pain. Immediate management The candidate must advise that the midstream urine specimen collected today will be sent for culture and antibiotic sensitivity assessment. Choice of initial treatment — appropriate antibiotic — for example, trimethoprim 300 mg orally, once daily; or cephalexin 500 mg orally, 12 hourly. Urinary alkalisation may be used, for example, Ural® (sodium citrotartrate) 8 hourly. Duration of therapy is 14 days. Amoxycillin is often given but is inappropriate in this patient because of the penicillin sensitivity. Advise patient to drink extra fluids. The antibiotic therapy should be commenced today whilst awaiting the culture results. Phone with results when through. Early review if poor response to treatment. Followup of this episode by repeat microscopy and culture after completion of antibiotic therapy. Discussion of condition and advice about investigation Significance of a urinary tract infection in males. Usually associated with underlying pathology according to age group: • Children — congenital abnormality especially vesicoureteric reflux. •

Younger adults — foreign body in bladder, sexually transmitted infection, including homosexual activity.

Older adults ~ calculus formation in kidney, ureter, or bladder; ~ prostatitis; ~ bladder polyps or carcinoma; ~ benign prostatic hypertrophy; ~ carcinoma of prostate; ~ urethral stricture; or ~ genitourinary tuberculosis should not be forgotten.

The clinical picture suggests a lower urinary tract infection. The main conditions to be excluded are urinary neoplasm and calculus and prostatic pathology.


Approach to patient.

Initial management plan.

Choice of investigations.

Patient education and counselling.


095 Performance Guidelines CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to arrange urine culture before commencing antibiotic therapy. • Failure to advise the need for further investigations. COMMENTARY • Further investigation is essential to identify the underlying cause and to exclude malignancy. • These would be undertaken in a staged manner. • Urinary culture to define organism. Repeat culture after initial treatment. • Ultrasound of kidneys, ureters, and bladder. • Contrast enhanced CT of abdomen and pelvis. • Prostatic specific antigen (PSA) level. • Serum urea and electrolytes • Referral to a urologist who may arrange: ~ cystoscopy, ~ voiding cystourethrogram.


096 Performance Guidelines

Condition 096 Eclampsia in a 22-year-old primigravida at 38 weeks gestation AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise that the grand mal fit is a sign of eclampsia, and the ability to manage appropriately this particular pregnancy complication in an 'out-of-hospital' situation. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the mother of the patient as follows: Your daughter has just had a fit in the waiting room. The fit occurred approximately 10 minutes ago and lasted three minutes. She bit her tongue, and had funny movements of her limbs, and then went off to sleep. The candidate will generally be expected to take an appropriate history from you as the mother in order to manage the case. The list of responses below is likely to cover most of the questions you will be asked. Your daughter has: •

no past history of epilepsy, and has never had any treatment with antiepileptic drugs;

no hypertension, renal disease, or other medical problem in the past;

not mentioned any headaches or visual disturbances recently; and

noticed oedema of the legs for the last two weeks, but was otherwise well.

Questions to ask if not already covered: •

'Why did she have a fit?'

'Will the fit damage my daughter or her baby?'

'Will she have any more fits?'

• •

'What are you going to do with her now? Can I take her home?' If the candidate suggests hospital transfer, but does not detail what will happen to the daughter following admission to hospital, you should ask 'What treatment will they give my daughter in hospital?'


096 Performance Guidelines Examination findings to be given to the candidate by the examiner on request •

Drowsy, but rousable.

Generalised oedema.



80/min and regular.


very active, clonus evident at the knees.

Abdominal examination: uterus enlarged to 38 cm (symphysis-fundal height), lax, and non tender. The presentation is cephalic, fixed in the pelvic brim, with three fingerbreadths palpable above the pubic symphysis. The fetal heart is audible and normal.

Central nervous system examination — apart from the conscious state and the active reflexes, this appears normal. There are no unilateral localising signs.

180/110 mmHg.

Investigation results None done except office urine testing of specimen brought with her showed proteinuria (++++). Failure to ask for the results of urine testing would indicate inadequate care. , EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should advise the mother along the following lines: • The diagnosis is eclampsia, a condition which occurs late in pregnancy generally in women having their first baby. Providing it is well controlled, no longterm harm usually occurs to either mother or baby, although it is potentially very dangerous to both the mother and baby. • She will need to be transferred and admitted to hospital immediately, and delivery arranged as soon as her blood pressure and any further fitting are brought completely under control. • There is no point prolonging the pregnancy in view of the gestation of 38 weeks. • Prior to transfer to the hospital admission an anticonvulsant such as diazepam should be given intravenously in an attempt to prevent further fitting (oral therapy is inappropriate and NOT acceptable). • The likely care provided in hospital would be: ~ an intravenous drip to be inserted and magnesium sulphate commenced in appropriate dosage to try to prevent any further fits; ~ the blood pressure should be lowered with intravenous hydralazine or diazoxide — oral agents are ineffective and should not be used; ~ tests on patient should include: renal function tests, liver function tests, Hb and platelet count, and coagulation profile; ~ the fetus should be checked by cardiotocography (CTG); ~ monitoring of the patient should include: pulse, blood pressure, temperature, urine output, and frequent urine testing (predominantly for protein); and ~ the room should be prepared in case a further fit occurs with the facility to administer oxygen, to have a Guedel airway/padded spoon available to prevent her from biting her tongue, to have the facility to place her in Sims position, and to observe her in a slightly darkened environment.


096 Performance Guidelines • The mode of delivery will depend on her condition, and the cervical findings. If the cervix is very favourable, she should be induced and monitored closely in labour, probably with the use of an epidural anaesthetic for pain relief and blood pressure control. CTG monitoring of the fetus in labour is mandatory. If the cervix is unfavourable, consideration needs to be given as to whether induction is appropriate, after prostaglandin priming, or whether an elective Caesarean section is more appropriate. Obviously if the CTG is abnormal, Caesarean section is likely to be required. KEY ISSUES •

Knowledge of the causes of fitting in pregnancy.

Ability to manage a patient who has had an eclamptic fit in late pregnancy and is not in hospital.


Failure to diagnose eclampsia and recognise risk of this to mother and baby.

Failure to sedate, and failure to transfer her immediately to hospital.

Failure to outline the three principles of management in the hospital — sedation, lower blood pressure, and delivery of baby.

COMMENTARY In this case the most likely diagnosis is eclampsia occurring in pregnancy. A history of previous fits should be sought, but it is unlikely that this is anything other than an eclamptic fit. It is important that the three basic principles of the management of eclampsia are performed or arranged. These principles are: prevention of further fits; lowering of the blood pressure; and arrangement for immediate delivery of the baby by the most appropriate route. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: •

When taking the history, not being focused enough to the actual problem, but asking for information such as irrelevant past history, social history and so on. This just takes time to do, and reduces the time available for the remaining tasks.

Not asking whether she had had any fits before.

Not asking for appropriate examination findings, such as hyperreflexia.

Not requesting whether there was any proteinuria present.

• •

Failing to understand that any prolongation of the pregnancy is irrelevant as the gestation is already 38 weeks. Administering oral instead of intravenous hypotensive drugs to reduce the blood pressure.


097 Performance Guidelines

Condition 097 An abnormal glucose tolerance test (GTT) in a 34-year-old primigravida AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to make the correct diagnosis of gestational diabetes, and to appropriately manage the patient for the remainder of the pregnancy. The candidate should do this by taking a focused history, asking the examiner for the examination findings, and then advising the patient appropriately EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows The list of responses below is likely to cover most of the questions asked. • No family history of diabetes. • You have never been tested for diabetes previously. • No previous operations or illnesses • This is your first baby. • You are now 28 weeks pregnant. • Your ultrasound at 18 weeks was normal. Questions to ask if not already covered: • What do the blood sugar levels mean?' • 'Do I have diabetes?' • 'How bad is my condition?' • ‘What treatment will I require?' • ‘Will my baby be diabetic?' Examination findings to be given to the candidate by the examiner on request •

The blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg.

No proteinuria.

• •

Uterus is enlarged to the size equivalent to a 28 week pregnancy (symphysis-fundal height = 28 cm). Cephalic presentation, head still mobile above the pelvic brim.

Fetal heart rate is normal.


097 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE It would be expected that the candidate would provide much of the following information. •

The diagnosis is gestational diabetes

Consultation with a diabetic physician and consultant obstetrician is mandatory.

She should follow a special diet to keep the blood glucose during the day at less than 7 mmol/L. If this is not possible, insulin therapy will probably be necessary.

Test the blood sugar 3-4 times per day, especially about two hours after a meal.

The major risks to the baby are: ~ Macrosomia (large baby size) — do ultrasound at 32-34 weeks and probably deliver by Caesarean section if macrosomic. ~ Increased risk of fetal death in utero — therefore weekly CTGs should be performed until delivery, twice weekly if on insulin, the fetus is macrosomic or polyhydramnios occurs. These should be started at 32-34 weeks gestation. ~ Hyaline membrane disease if delivered prematurely — try to delay induction until after 37 weeks. Steroid therapy would improve fetal lung maturity, but will make gestational diabetes worse.

Risks to the mother — increased risk of pre-eclampsia.

Deliver at term at the latest, unless obstetric complications indicate earlier delivery is indicated. Monitor the fetus by continuous CTG in labour. Keep blood glucose levels stable in labour with intermittent insulin injections. Deliver by elective Caesarean section if macrosomic (> 90th centile for weight), breech presentation, or evidence of fetal distress.

The diabetes will almost certainly resolve following delivery. However gestational diabetes is likely in subsequent pregnancies, and there is a 30% risk of her developing diabetes later in life. Glucose tolerance should therefore be checked at least every 5 years for life. She must control any weight gain in the future.


Ability to recognise that the blood sugar results are diagnostic of gestational diabetes.

Ability to appropriately assess the control of the diabetes during the remainder of the pregnancy, and to appropriately manage the patient, in consultation with a physician and obstetrician.

Ability to recognise the need for insulin if the blood glucose levels are not reduced satisfactorily with diet alone.

Ability to recognise the increased risks to the fetus, and the need for close monitoring.


097 Performance Guidelines CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to diagnose gestational diabetes. • Failure to advise diabetic diet and testing of blood sugar levels 3-4 times daily. • Failure to arrange for consultation with a diabetic physician and obstetrician. COMMENTARY This case illustrates the need for the candidate to recognise the diagnosis of gestational diabetes based upon a two hour glucose tolerance test. The most important aspects of the management of the case are to recognise the need for assessment of the blood sugars three or four times a day; the need to consider insulin if the blood glucose levels do not respond, and the need to include in the management of this patient a diabetic physician and an obstetrician. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • When taking the history, not being focused enough to the actual problem, but asking for information such as irrelevant past history, social history and so on. This just takes time to do, and reduces the time available for the remaining tasks. • Failing to recognise a need for special fetal monitoring because of the increased risks to the fetus.


098 Performance Guidelines

Condition 098 Bed-wetting by a 5-year-old boy AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose and handle the common problem of bed-wetting in a 5-year-old child. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are the mother of Johnny who has a problem with bed-wetting nightly since the age of three years. You were initially exasperated by the wetting but now have accepted that the wetting is involuntary. You have not punished Johnny despite your exasperation. His general health is excellent, and he has had no major illnesses. He appears to be growing normally and is on the middle line of his graph for height and weight. Since the age of 3 years, he has always been dry during the day and never had any incontinence. He has never had a urinary tract infection. He is embarrassed and you and your spouse are very keen to help him control his wetting. His father wet the bed until the age of nine years. The tablets that were tried two years ago made no difference to the wetting. Johnny is going very well at school and enjoys his teacher. He has lots of good friends. You and his father are happily married and have no major stresses in your lives. Johnny has a 4-year-old younger sister who has been dry day and night since the age of two and a half. Questions to ask if not already covered: •

‘Is there something wrong with his kidneys or bladder?'

'Does he need any investigations?'

‘We have restricted his fluids after dinner at night and lift him onto the toilet when we go to bed. Should we continue to do this?'

'What about when he is asked to sleepover at a friend's place — so far we haven't let him do this. Is there anything we can do for that?'

'How does this alarm work if he has already passed urine and wet his bed before it goes off?'(If an alarm is advised)

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE This scenario describes a 5-year-old boy with persistent primary bed-wetting from three years of age. He is otherwise well, has no daytime wetting or any other symptoms to suggest a pathological cause for his wetting. His height and weight are on the 50th percentile. The boy himself is very keen to be dry, and his parents are keen to help him achieve this. These are important points the candidate should appreciate. Amitriptyline (Tryptanol®) was tried about two years previously to no avail. Johnny is doing well at school and has lots of good friends.


098 Performance Guidelines The parents are happily married and under no major stresses. His 4-year-old younger sister has been dry day and night since the age ot 21/2 years. The candidate should enquire about family history; one parent was a bed-wetter until aged nine years. Before embarking on a plan of action, the candidate should proceed as follows: • Check the boy's urine by dipstix (Multistix®) testing, and a urine microscopy and culture. • Enquire about the child's growth percentiles, which are normal. • Ensure his blood pressure is normal. • Renal ultrasound may be suggested but is probably unnecessary unless there is a great deal of parental anxiety. Having excluded any organic pathology and having ensured that there are no serious emotional reasons to account for the symptom, the candidate should outline an ongoing plan of management. This should include: • Empathy with the exasperating nature of the condition particularly with the excessive washing of bedclothes and pyjamas, but enthusiasm for the interest the parents are showing in trying to help Johnny. • Reassurance that there is almost certainly no organic pathology present. • Advice that even though lifting and restriction of fluids have not been shown to be effective generally, if the parents are keen to continue this they should feel free to do so as it occasionally does help some children. • Outlining the plan of management including use of an enuresis alarm. Explain how the alarm works as a conditioning response to release of urine. • Explaining how to obtain the alarm (for example, through pharmacies [hiring], buying or through some Community Health Centres or Children's hospitals) • Discussing that the success rate is much higher if the child himself is motivated to become dry (as Johnny is), • Discussing a recording star chart and reward system. • Supporting and encouraging child and parent by regular frequent review to encourage the boy on even minor successes. • Explaining a plan of action for the use of arginine vasopressin (DDAPV®) by nasal spray when it is important to remain dry and avoid any embarrassment for school camps and sleepovers. Explain the safety of this substance if used only as directed. • Advice that the success rate with amitriptyline (Tryptanol®) is low. It can be a dangerous drug in overdose and is rarely used now. • Advice that even with the alarm it may be some weeks before success is achieved and the alarm should be persisted with for up to three months. A review appointment should be made two to three weeks after the alarm has started, to review the progress. KEY ISSUES • Empathy, support, and encouragement to both child and parent. • Enquiry about a family history of enuresis. • Exclusion of emotional stress at home or school. • Exclusion of organic pathology by the history and by arranging simple urine testing. • Advice about plan of action should be logical and clear.


098 Performance Guidelines CRITICAL ERROR • Suggesting a probable organic cause for the wetting and the need for invasive investigations. COMMENTARY This scenario describes a five-year-old boy with persistent primary bed-wetting from three years of age. He is otherwise well, has no daytime wetting or any other symptoms to suggest a pathological cause for his wetting. The candidate snould appreciate that the boy himself is very keen to be dry, and that his parents are willing to help him achieve this


099 Performance Guidelines

Condition 099 Acute gout in a 48-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to manage an acute attack of gout and give advice about its prevention. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are suffering from severe pain in your right foot which began two days ago. You saw the doctor earlier today who diagnosed gout (which you have had before), and arranged for a confirmatory blood test. You have returned to find out the result and receive treatment. You are a 48-year-old taxi driver and usually keep in good health. You do not smoke but drink three or four stubbies of beer, after work, daily. No serious past medical problems but you are taking tablets for mild blood pressure diagnosed two years ago. You are overweight. You have no family or social problems. You are anxious to get relief from the pain which is preventing you from driving your taxi. You are somewhat irritated that you were asked to have a blood test, because this was not done during previous attacks which responded well to treatment. You have little knowledge about the cause of gout and are unaware that recurrent attacks are to be expected and can be prevented. You have not suspected that the blood pressure tablets could have something to do with gout, and are annoyed that you were not warned about this. Questions to be asked if not covered • 'How long before I can resume work?' • 'What causes gout?' • 'Can it do any serious damage to my system?' • 'What is the best treatment?' • 'Should I have any other tests?' • 'What about having a beer after work?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • Approach to patient It is essential to establish a satisfactory relationship with this patient because of the need for compliance regarding his use of alcohol and control of his weight, and to defuse irritation about having to have a blood test for this attack and finding out that the antihypertensive medication has been a precipitating factor. • Initial management plan — immediate ~ Discontinue diuretic and aspirin. ~ Specific treatment: - Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) initially in high dose: e.g. indo-methacin 25 mg capsules — 50-75 mg immediately, 50 mg two hours later, 25 mg eight hourly for 48 hours, then 25 mg twice daily for one week, would be appropriate. Other NSAID such as naproxen or ibuprofen are also effective.


099 Performance Guidelines

- OR prednisolone 25 mg orally, daily in the morning, reducing to zero over 7 to 10 days. -

OR colchicine 0.5 mg tablets 2-3 immediately, then 1-2 every 4-6 hours or until diarrhoea occurs. Maximum dose 6 mg/24 hours. As pain reduces the dose of colchicine can be reduced to 0.5 mg twice daily.


Note that allopurinol and probenecid are contraindicated for an acute attack.

~ Additional measures: - Increase fluid intake. - Elevate and rest foot for 24-48 hours. - Paracetamol (Panadol®) can be used for additional pain relief if needed. - Warn regarding possible side effects of medication: indigestion and elevated blood pressure from indomethacin or prednisolone: diarrhoea from colchicine. - Suggest an alternative drug to reduce blood pressure (e.g. angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor [note that all thiazides and Beta blockers may exacerbate gout]). - May return to work as soon as pain is relieved — should be within 48 hours. •

Initial Management — Preventive ~ Ensure adequate intake of water. Do not take diuretics or salicylates. ~ Reduce weight. Reduce intake of alcohol. Avoid foods rich in purine (offal, tinned fish, shell fish and game). ~ Approximately eight weeks after this attack has subsided may commence allopurinol 50-100 mg daily, gradually increasing up to 300 mg daily (two strengths 100 and 300 mg tablets) ~ Check uric acid level after 4 weeks — aim to reduce below 0.4 mmol/L ~ Colchicine (0.5 mg b.d.) can be used in conjunction with allopurinol if gout recurs during initial therapy. ~ Further assessment of patient should include review of blood pressure, serum lipids, fasting blood sugar and urea and electrolytes. Other renal function tests are not indicated at this stage. X-ray of the affected area is not required.

Patient education and counselling ~ Gout is a metabolic disturbance with an inherited tendency in which there is decreased renal clearance of urate causing hyperuricaemia with deposition of urate crystals in joints, soft tissue (tophi) and urinary tract (urate stones). It is frequently associated with hypertension, dyslipidaemia, and Type 2 diabetes. Thiazide diuretics also predispose to diabetes. Gout: - Particularly occurs in the great toe following minor trauma. - Can follow any surgical operation. - Can be precipitated by alcohol excess, and diuretics which inhibit sodium reabsorption. - Is aggravated by diet high in purines. - Is prone to recurrence. - Exhibits a prompt response of the acute attack to appropriate treatment (24-48 hours). KEY ISSUES

Appropriate choice of drug therapy for initial management.

Appropriate patient education and counselling regarding prevention of further attacks.


099 Performance Guidelines CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to advise change of antihypertensive medication (thiazide diuretic). COMMENTARY Gout (uric acid arthropathy) may present as acute arthritis or be associated with a chronic destructive arthropathy. Most cases of primary gout are due to excessive synthesis of uric acid while one-third relate to reduced renal clearance of urate. Acute gout commonly affects the great toe metatarsophalangeal joint, although other foot joints and the ankle are frequent sites. It may affect any joint in the body or, unusually, it can present as a polyarticular arthritis mimicking other systemic rheumatic conditions. The joint can be extremely painful, red and tender and the patient may be intolerant of even a sheet touching the foot. If fluid can be obtained from an affected joint, it will contain needle-shaped crystals that are negatively biréfringent on phase-contrast microscopy. Plasma urate concentration may not be elevated in the course of an acute attack, so hyperuricaemia is not a necessary diagnostic criterion.


Acute gout

CONDITION 099. FIGURE 2. Chronic tophaceous gout

It is important to treat hyperuricaemia in order to avoid chronic gouty arthritis, tophaceous gout and renal complications (calculi, chronic renal failure due to interstitial nephritis). Hyperuricaemia is commonly exacerbated by excess alcohol intake and drugs. It is common in clinical practice to come across an elderly patient who has been on longterm diuretic therapy with chronic tophaceous gout and renal impairment. This should be considered an iatrogenic disease. Hyperuricaemia is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Therefore, an attack of gout provides an opportunity for the prescriber to review the cardiovascular risk factors (for example, smoking, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, obesity), and to recommend appropriate management. In this station, the candidate is confronted with a very common clinical problem, an eminently treatable condition and an opportunity, through patient education, to institute a longterm management plan to reduce the frequency of attacks. It also provides the practitioner with the opportunity to address significant lifestyle issues with the potential for improved cardiovascular health.


100 Performance Guidelines

Condition 100 Request for repeat benzodiazepine prescription from a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to identify benzodiazepine dependency and counsel the patient accordingly. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The station assesses the candidate's awareness that longterm benzodiazepine use is a problem (abuse), capacity to recognise overuse in this case by simple calculation (dependency), and preparedness to intervene and address this with the patient. It also assesses ability to evaluate the problem further by taking a focused history, communication skills in engaging the patient and ability to make an appropriate management plan — including an awareness of potential problems following sudden cessation. A brief survey of mood is all that is required in this case. The history does not suggest any other psychiatric diagnosis except substance dependency. At five minutes, if candidates have not already done so, interrupt and ask them to give their conclusions and make their recommendation to the patient. At six minutes, ask candidates whether they would immediately stop the prescription and why. You may not need to ask this question if the candidate has already addressed this issue. The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 25-year-old, divorced salesman. You were first prescribed this anxiolytic four years ago when your marriage broke down. At the same time, your business failed and you were having problems going for job interviews because you had lost so much confidence. You eventually found the anxiolytic was very good at helping you get off to sleep quickly, and you have continued to use the anxiolytic since. Your work, relationships and home life are generally okay now, but you expect this is at least partly because you can get to sleep without fail and feel calm throughout the day. Opening statement: 'This is just a quick one for you, Doc. I just need a refill of my sleeping tablets, thanks, and then I will be on my way'. If the doctor indicates in any way that you should not be taking the Serepax®, or that the doctor is going to stop or substantially change the dose immediately, respond as follows: ‘I know I need to continue the Serepax® because on occasions I have taken only half a tablet for a few days, or missed taking them for one to two days, and I ended up feeling edgy, jittery, shaky and was unable to sleep or concentrate on my work. On one occasion, I thought I was going to have a heart attack because my chest was pounding. As soon as I get back to my usual dose, I feel fine. I do not use, and have never used, any other drugs.'


100 Performance Guidelines You are generally in good health. You do not smoke and rarely drink alcohol. You have not had any serious illnesses, injuries or accidents, including car accidents. You have never had any fits, falls or faints or any loss of consciousness. You did feel depressed when your marriage broke up and your business failed, but that has been the only time. Give the following responses and answers to further questions: • When or if the candidate mentions addiction or dependency, say that you are aware of some information about these tablets being addictive, but you don't think it applies to you (for no particular reason), and also your symptoms on ceasing are evident to you that you have a 'real need'. • When, or if, the candidate asks about the schedule of your use. respond by saying that you use them only to get to sleep. • When or if the candidate goes on to demonstrate to you that you have used more than one per day in the past week, say that there has been extra pressure at work, and admit that you have taken a few extra. You can expect the candidate to pursue the issue of quantities used. If the candidate approaches this diplomatically, be cooperative in uncovering the overuse problem. If the candidate is critical or blaming, or wishes to refer you immediately to a substance abuse unit or report you to the Health Department, take offence and say you do not want to continue with the consultation: 'Just give me the script and I will go' or 'I'll sort this out myself. • When the candidate explains a proposal of a period of monitoring your use and moods or stress, followed by graded reduction, along with regular appointments, support and resource materials or groups, agree with this management plan. • If the candidate refuses to prescribe, take offence and respond as above: 'I'll sort this out myself. • If the candidate agrees to provide a prescription with no suggested measures or comments such as 'we will talk next time', accept that and say 'What days do you work. Doc. so that I can be sure to see you next time?' Be quite at ease and be pleasant. Provide your background history and the development of your habit in a straightforward way. Respond to questions about your present use as outlined previously. Questions to ask if not already covered: • 'So what's the problem with taking these tablets, really?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should: • Take a focused history of the patient's use of the benzodiazepine anxiolytic (Serepax®) and history of other substance and alcohol use and patient mood. • Advise the patient about the problems of benzodiazepine dependency and outline a plan of management that includes a gradual reduction in use, along with regular appointments, support and resource material and followup.


100 Performance Guidelines


Identification and preparedness to address the issue of dependency and overdose.

Appropriate language and attitudes in taking the history and discussing the problem.

Knowledge of biological and psychosocial management of benzodiazepine dependency.

Awareness of the risks of sudden cessation, such as acute withdrawal states, fits, agitation, exacerbation of anxiety and treatment failure.

CRITICAL ERROR - none defined COMMENTARY This station assesses the candidate's ability to identify inappropriate benzodiazepine use and dependency, and to counsel a patient appropriately. The doctor is presented with the problem of being drawn into maintaining a longterm benzodiazepine use habit, with clear evidence of over-use (approximately 75% greater consumption than the prescribed dose). Benzodiazepines are recommended for short-term use only. While they have some place in the longterm management of chronic severe anxiety, other treatments, including antidepressant medication and psychological treatments (relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioural or interpersonal therapies) must be applied first. Longterm prescription needs are to be closely supervised and monitored for over-use, such as in this case. This case challenges candidates in a number of ways. Chiefly, it requires them to actively and constructively intervene, not just to provide the prescription (with or without advice) or to just refuse the prescription, thus provoking the patient to seek out another source, or risking precipitating a withdrawal state. The satisfactory candidate, in addition to managing the immediate consultation needs, will be aware of community support and self-help groups. Candidates should demonstrate that they understand the problems of both prescribing further medication without any review or plan for reduction, and also suddenly stopping the medication. Thus, simply advising the patient that they will 'talk next time', or refusing to prescribe with no other measures put in place, are both unsatisfactory. Similarly, referring the patient immediately to a substance abuse unit would be unsatisfactory and counterproductive.


3-B: Clinical Procedures Peter G Devitt and Barry P McGrath 'The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.' Jacob Bronowski

The term management implies an integrated approach to patient care, focusing on investigation and treatment. This section concentrates on aspects of management that involve practical aspects of patient care. There are certain procedures with which the commencing intern is expected to be fully conversant and competent. These include at least: • establishment of elective or emergency venous access for The junior graduate commencing infusion of fluids; internship is expected to be fully • venesection for collection of blood samples;

• insertion and removal of a urinary catheter (male and female); • intramuscular, subcutaneous and intradermal injections; • cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); • interpretation of ECGs and basic imaging films; • use of a glucometer: • use of inhaler, spacer and nebuliser; and • understanding of spirometry and pulmonary function testing.

conversant and competent with certain core skills, including antiseptic and aseptic technique, basic first aid techniques and primary wound care. Graduates are expected also to understand the principles of more specialised clinical skills, and to be able to explain these clearly to a patient.

There are other skills that the individual is expected to acquire progressively under supervision during internship and should have some understanding of at graduation. Some of these are ward-based skills and some may be learnt in the emergency or anaesthetic department. These skills include: • simple skin suturing; • use of a defibrillator; • maintenance of an adequate airway; • insertion of a nasogastric tube • performance of an electrocardiogram; • collection of a sample for arterial blood gas analysis; • central venous pressure measurement; • pleural aspiration and peritoneal tap (needle thoracentesis, needle peritoneocentesis); • nasal packing; • slit lamp examination; • anoscopy (proctoscopy/rigid sigmoidoscopy); and • endotracheal intubation



Clinical Procedures

Another group of skills are those which the intern will be expected to observe and perhaps perform under supervision, but not necessarily demonstrate fully independent competence at this stage of training. It is important that the principles of these procedures are observed and understood and can be explained to patients. These skills include, among others: •

indirect laryngoscopy;

lumbar puncture;

use of a tonometer; and

advanced local anaesthetic and field block including intravenous local block (Bier), and epidural block commonly used in obstetrics.

A fourth group of skills include those which are not considered suitable for those at intern level, but which may have been observed by individuals whilst medical students or interns. There is a common misconception that such procedures need to be learnt at internship, when in reality the procedures should preferably only be undertaken independently by individuals with already developed specialist skills. Again, the principles of these procedures should be understood at intern level, such that they can be explained to patients. These procedures include: • cricothyroidotomy; •

insertion of a central venous line;

insertion of an intercostal draintube;

peritoneal dialysis/lavage; and


Missing from these lists are a number of tasks sometimes thought of as procedures, but which in reality should be considered an essential part of the examination of the patient. These include: •


measurement of blood pressure;

otoscopy; and


Specialist and generic endoscopic skills These are usually confined to performance by specialists in various disciplines and include: •

nasolaryngoscopy, bronchoscopy;

upper gastrointestinal endoscopy - - oesophagoscopy, gastroscopy;

lower gastrointestinal endoscopy — flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy; and

arthroscopy, thoracoscopy, laparoscopy.

This section contains some examples of procedures which the intern is expected to be able to perform competently and be able to explain to a patient. The following table is an AMC composite checklist of 'Clinical Procedural Skills'. Students are expected by graduation to understand the principles of all of these, and to be able to explain them clearly to a patient. Competence levels expected as regards performance thus varies between those they should be able to perform and interpret independently (A), perform under supervision and with guidance (B), or observe and understand principles (C).



Clinical Procedures

Many University Clinical Schools make use of similar student log books indicating acquisition of skills and certification of their performance under supervision of a clinical tutor. We are grateful to the University Clinical Schools of Adelaide, New South Wales and of Monash for access to their skills lists, which have been amalgamated into the AMC table. Other important core skills and principles often violated or overlooked relate to appropriate antiseptic and aseptic techniques, including such basic aspects as care in handwashing between each patient contact; and skills in regard to basic first aid techniques and primary wound care, together with knowledge of operating theatre protocols including donning of gowns, gloves and masks and simple splintage and plastering techniques Clinical Procedural Skills — Competency Expectations Final Year Key to Competency Levels A = ability to perform and interpret independently and explain principles to patient B = ability to explain principles, perform, and/or interpret with prompting and guidance C = observe and understand principles, explain to patient Core skills (Competency Level A) At the end of final year the student should be able to perform the following age-appropriate skills competently and without supervision Competency Level A Measure and record vital signs: oral, aural and axillary temperature/pulse/respiratory rate/blood pressure Testing of urine (urinalysis) Venepuncture (including knowledge of appropriate containers for common tests) Insertion of peripheral intravenous cannula Simulated administration of a drug intravenously Setting up of an intravenous infusion including blood 12 lead ECG — procedure 12 lead ECG — interpretation Use of auroscope/ophthalmoscope Basic first aid, including CPR Application of a simple dressing Basic trauma management Basic wound care including burns Basic life support on a mannikin Application and removal of a forearm plaster Insertion of a nasogastric tube Insertion of a urinary catheter (male and female) Removal of a urinary catheter Nasopharyngeal aspiration Administration of immunisation and knowledge of appropriate schedules Calculation of common drug dosages Administration and prescription of oxygen Give a drug orally



Clinical Procedures Competency Level A (continued) Give a drug via eyedrops Give a drug sublingually Give a drug via an inhaler, a spacer and a nebuliser Give a drug rectally Give a drug vaginally Give a drug intranasally Give a drug transdermally Give a drug via intramuscular injection Give a drug subcutaneously Hand cleaning, asepsis, awareness of sterility and standard precautions Surgical scrub procedures Aware of occupational health and safety (OH&S) procedures about blood and body fluid exposure and needlestick Diagnose death, complete a death certificate and a cremation form Demonstrate knowledge of requirements for reporting deaths to the coroner Demonstrate knowledge of requirements for detention under the Mental Health Act Demonstrate knowledge of requirements for notification of infectious diseases Complete a Workcover certificate Write a discharge letter from a hospital to a general practitioner/local medical officer Write a referral letter to a specialist Write a hospital consult request Write an investigation request form Interpret standard laboratory medicine reports Interpret commonly used imaging (CXR, AXR, pelvis, spine and long bones) Specimen handling Write a prescription (including Authority and SP) — simulated Demonstrate use of relaxation therapy Lifting and patient handling skills Use of infiltrative local anaesthesia Simple nerve block, e.g. ring block/peripheral digits Suturing of a simple wound Remove skin sutures and staples Skin biopsy Wound swab Throat swab Skin swab Cervical smear/use of speculum Perform the following components of advanced life support on a manikin — intubation Understand principles of advanced life support on a manikin — defibrillation


3-B Clinical Procedures Supervised Core Skills (Competency Level B) Supervised core experience (at the end of final year student has performed or assisted with the age-appropriate skill under direct supervision). Competency Level B Normal vaginal delivery Arterial puncture Femoral venepuncture Management of epistaxis by nasal packing Syringe an ear Uncomplicated removal of foreign bodies from eyes, ears and nose Use of slit lamp microscope


3-B Clinical Procedures Procedural Skills (Competency Level C) Observed core experience (at the end of final year student has observed and may have assisted with the skill or procedure and is able to describe and explain it to a patient simply and clearly). Competency Level C Advanced trauma management, including defibrillation/revival Measurement of central venous pressure Insertion of CVP line Pleural tap, insertion intercostal catheter/chest drain — management of underwater drainage Abdominal paracentesis/diagnostic tap of ascitic fluid; peritoneal dialysis/lavage Suprapubic bladder tap Lumbar puncture and measurement of CSF pressure Simple skin excision Handling an aggressive patient Joint aspiration (including practice on a model) — knee, shoulder, elbow Endoscopy — upper Gl tract Colonoscopy Flexible sigmoidoscopy Colposcopy Fine needle aspiration cytological biopsy for common conditions, e.g. breast, thyroid and lymph node Liver biopsy Audiometry Post mortem examination (autopsy) Bone marrow biopsy Exercise ECG Echocardiogram Coronary angiogram and angiographic procedures Bronchoscopy Spirometry — formal lung function testing MRI and CT imaging Ultrasound (abdominal, musculoskeletal, breast and obstetric) Nuclear medicine scans Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) Application of a lower limb traction splint Peter G Devitt and Barry P McGrath



Clinical Procedures

3-B Clinical Procedures Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 101-104 101

Resuscitation of a 24-year-old man after head and chest injury


Fluid balance assessment in a 50-year-old patient after abdominal surgery


Evaluation of lung function by spirometry in a 22-year-old man


A suspected fractured clavicle in a 20-year-old man



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 101 Resuscitation of a 24-year-old man after head and chest injury CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) in the hospital Emergency Department A 24-year-old man is carried by his friends into the department, having just driven his car into a telegraph pole immediately outside the hospital. He is unconscious, barely breathing and with limited chest movement. He vomits as he is carried into the room. His forehead is bleeding from a head injury from being thrown into the windscreen. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Indicate what measures you would undertake to resuscitate him, describe these to the examiner and perform them on the manikin.

Following your initial resuscitative measures his colour improves initially, but another several minutes later it becomes very difficult to ventilate him even squeezing the breathing bag very firmly, and he becomes deeply cyanosed. Indicate to the examiner what further physical findings you would seek, and what measures you would then undertake.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 101 can be found on page 549



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 102 Fluid balance assessment in a 50-year-old patient after abdominal surgery CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) on a surgical ward; you have been asked to see a middle aged patient who had a laparotomy for a perforated duodenal ulcer six hours ago. He has a nasogastric tube in position and an intravenous line administering 5% dextrose. Serum electrolytes and creatinine done prior to surgery showed no significant abnormality. Operative findings as recorded were an anterior wall duodenal ulcer perforation which was oversewn without complication. The nursing staff are concerned that the patient has not passed any urine since the procedure was completed six hours ago. The patient had been in good health up to the time of the perforation and had been in severe pain for 12 hours before the operation, and had vomited several times. He has had 500 ml_ of 5% dextrose intravenously since admission. He has a nasogastric tube in situ draining to the bedside. He does not have a urinary catheter. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Assess the patient, and determine the cause of his problem. • Initiate a plan of action: this will include the writing up of any drug, or intravenous or nursing orders. • Outline your plan and orders to the observing examiner. • You have six minutes for your assessment and two minutes to describe your management plan and diagnosis. . The Performance Guidelines for Condition 102 can be found on page 551



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 103 Evaluation of lung function by spirometry in a 22-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are seeing this 22-year-old man in a general practice for an examination for insurance purposes. You have completed the history-taking and the only finding is a history of mild asthma until the age of 11 years. There have been no symptoms in recent years and no need for treatment. You have examined the respiratory system which you find is normal. You are asked to evaluate the patient's lung function using a Vitalograph spirometer as illustrated below. You are also asked to determine the FEX^ (forced expiratory volume in 1 second) and FVC (forced vital capacity) and then compare these with normal values. After this you are asked to explain the results to the patient. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Perform spirometry on this patient.

Calculate the FEV, and FVC.

Compare the patient's FEV^ and FVC with predicted values.

Discuss the results with the patient.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 103 can be found on page 558



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 104 A suspected fractured clavicle in a 20-year-old man. CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) in an Emergency Department. Your patient is a young adult male who fell heavily onto the point of his right shoulder earlier today. He presented with pain in the area and you suspected a fracture of the clavicle on that side because of swelling, mild deformity and localised tenderness. An X-ray of the area has just been done. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Examine the X-ray provided. • Inform the patient of your diagnosis and outline a management plan and answer any specific questions asked by the patient. • Commence treatment using the materials provided.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 104 can be found on page 561


3-B Clinical Procedures

3-B Clinical Procedures Performance Guidelines MCAT 101-104 101

Resuscitation of a 24-year-old man after head and chest injury


Fluid balance assessment in a 50-year-old patient after abdominal surgery


Evaluation of lung function by spirometry in a 22-year-old man


A suspected fractured clavicle in a 20-year-old man


101 Performance Guidelines

Condition 101 Resuscitation of a 24-year-old man after head and chest injury AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidates knowledge and ability to clear the patient's airway, perform assisted ventilation, cardiac massage if necessary and circulatory support for patients with severe trauma. To suspect, diagnose and perform emergency decompression of a tension pneumothorax. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE A patient who has a severe combined head and chest injury needs urgent resuscitation: • Clear the airway — remove aspirate, vomitus. • Perform assisted ventilation — mouth to mouth, oral airway, ventilate with bag if available, consider endotracheal intubation. If initial improvement is followed by significant deterioration and inability to ventilate the patient with an endotracheal tube in place, the clinician must suspect a tension pneumothorax is present. Physical findings to be sought: Percussion and auscultation of the chest reveals tympany, absent or reduced air entry, supported by evidence of mediastinal and tracheal shift. This confirms the clinical diagnosis of tension pneumothorax on that side and necessitates immediate insertion of a large bore (18 gauge) needle into the second or third intercostal space anteriorly, followed by elective passage of an axillary intercostal underwater drainage tube. The candidate should indicate the tube connections to the underwater drainage bottle. KEY ISSUES • Knowledge of the AIRWAY, BREATHING. CIRCULATION priority sequence in management. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to follow an appropriate priority sequence in management. • Failure to consider a tension pneumothorax. • Failure to recommend immediate needle decompression thoracentesis.


101 Performance Guidelines COMMENTARY Emergency management of severe trauma (EMST) involves primary surveys assessing adequacy of airway breathing, and circulation by initial assessment; and correcting life-threatening complications by procedures such as those illustrated in this scenario. The possibility of neck injury must be born in mind, but adequate ventilation must be achieved or the patient will not survive. Manual holding of the neck to prevent any further injury during the airway management, is clearly necessary.


102 Performance Guidelines

Condition 102 Fluid balance assessment in a 50-year-old patient after abdominal surgery AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to manage a common problem — postoperative fluid balance and monitoring. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will arrange the station and will have instructed the patient as follows: The patient is a middle-aged man in pyjamas, lying in a hospital bed or on a trolley. A nasogastric tube is in position from nares to bedside, taped appropriately to the face, leading to a nasogastric bag containing 600 ml_ of 'gastric juice' (malt vinegar). An intravenous line and cannula is in place taped to run beneath a dressing to left forearm, from a full bag of 500 mL 5% glucose (dextrose) in water. The fluid balance chart and nursing observations sheet appended is at the foot of the bed This will show the following: 1. Pulse and blood pressure in the normal range since admission and surgery 6 hours ago. Temperature is normal. 2. The nasogastric drainage output is 600 mL since surgery (corresponding with the volume in the bag which has not been emptied since surgery). 3. Intravenous fluid intake since admission has been • 500 mL isotonic saline started during the operation and subsequently just finished. • Intravenous orders as currently written are ~ 500 mL 5% dextrose over 12 hours, then ~ 500 mL 5% dextrose over 12 hours then review The patient's abdomen has a gauze and plastic dressing over the upper abdomen to cover the simulated vertical upper midline incision. Analgesics have been ordered on an as required basis — morphine 10 mg four hourly sub-cutaneously. Instructions given to the patient are: You are recovering from surgery from a perforated ulcer. You have some abdominal pain but this has been reasonably controlled by an injection 30 minutes ago. You have not passed urine since the operation. If asked, you gave a specimen prior to surgery; you do not feel currently a need to pass urine. The nurses have asked the doctor to see you because you haven't yet passed urine. The doctor will look at your charts and examine you. You have a painful cut in the upper abdomen covered by a dressing and any undue handling will be distressing. You have a tube in your nose ostensibly passing to your stomach to drain the gastric fluids. You have an intravenous drip in your left arm If the doctor palpates your lower abdomen say that it is not particularly uncomfortable and you do not feel the urge to void if abdominal compression is performed. However, palpation of your upper abdomen will be painful as you have just had an upper abdominal procedure performed.


102 Performance Guidelines If asked other questions say you feel reasonably well apart from the pain in your wound, and you feel rather thirsty but appreciate that you cannot yet drink. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate would be expected to check the nursing and fluid balance observations and note the absence of voiding in combination with minimal intravenous replacement over 6 hours since surgery and in the presence of continuing nasogastric losses. Optimal acquisition of data would be by checking intraoperative and postoperative fluid charts, to establish input since admission and to check for extrarenal losses via gastric tube. The patient should be asked if he feels like voiding. The normal vital signs should be noted; there are no concerning abdominal signs relevant to surgery. The bladder is not palpable, gentle suprapubic pressure and absence of desire to void would be checked by knowledgeable candidates. Checking that the jugular venous pressure is not elevated and examination of tissue turgor for signs of 'dehydration' would be expected (none is present). The JVP is normal and no peripheral oedema is present. Appropriate treatment would be to increase intravenous fluid intake after acquisition of all data, with presumptive diagnosis of insufficient fluid and electrolyte replacement. The preferred intravenous fluid to order initially would be an isotonic electrolyte solution (saline, Hartmann solution, 4% dextrose in 1/5 isotonic saline), rather than dextrose alone, but a dextrose bolus would be acceptable although not the preferred fluid. Immediate treatment should be intravenous saline 500 mL over 30-60 minutes or so, with review after this. These instructions should be stated and written. Some hospitals possess proprietary (ultrasound-based) equipment which the ward staff can use to make estimation of bladder volume. This will help determine if the failure to void is due to retention of urine or to oliguria associated with inadequate fluid replacement. Candidates may suggest passing a urethral catheter, which would be acceptable with review of amount obtained and subsequent urine output. Preferably one would review the patient after giving an initial bolus of fluid. If the patient has not produced any urine within an hour, a urethral catheter should be passed. Urine obtained would be measured for volume and, if available, a urinary sodium level should be sought to aid diagnosis. Complete anuria would be a highly unlikely finding under these circumstances, and the finding of a low urinary sodium level (less than 20 mmol/L) in a small volume of urine would confirm prerenal circulatory insufficiency with renal conservation of sodium and oliguria. In subsequent monitoring of his urinary output, one would aim at an output of more than 30 mL hourly. Appropriate responses are as outlined. In particular candidates should appreciate that appropriate volume replacement (after checking for signs of volume overload — venous filling, peripheral oedema, auscultate lung bases) would preferably be by increased intravenous electrolyte solution replacement (isotonic saline. Hartmann solution, 4% dextrose in 1/5 isotonic saline) rather than dextrose/water alone. Administration of a diuretic prior to fluid replacement would indicate a clear fail. If no commentary or plan is forthcoming by six minutes — the examiner will ask: •

‘What is your diagnosis?'

‘What orders will you give?'


102 Performance Guidelines KEY ISSUES • Assess the candidate's ability to determine the most likely cause for apparent postoperative oliguria with failure of early voiding after surgery by examination of nursing and fluid balance data and patient assessment. • Assess the candidate's ability to take appropriate corrective action and to recognise the need for continued monitoring and review. CRITICAL ERRORS • Administration of a diuretic without previous fluid replacement. • Failure to order an increased rate of intravenous replacement of appropriate type. • Failure to suggest continuing review after trial of more fluids. COMMENTARY Surgical operations have the potential to upset the normal water and electrolyte balance of the body, in which daily intakes and outputs are usually finely balanced and equivalent, as shown below in an adult: CONDITION 102. TABLE 1.

Water Input Ingested Liquids Water of food Water of metabolism TOTALS

Water Output 1.500 mL 1,000 mL 100-200 mL 2.5-3 litres

= = = =

Urine Insensible losses Faecal losses

1,500 mL 1,000 mL 100-200 mL 2.5-3 litres

This simplification is administratively and clinically convenient: • In normal circumstances measured ingested water balances and equals measured urine production; • unmeasurable water in food is balanced by unmeasurable insensible losses from lung and skin; and • unmeasurable water produced within the body, by metabolism of ingested foodstuff, is balanced by unmeasured water loss in faeces. Urine output can be monitored daily or more frequently. A urethral catheter is necessary in the severely ill or shocked patient. A urine output of 40-50 mL per hour is reasonable evidence of satisfactory renal perfusion; urine output relates closely to renal blood flow in shock states Accordingly, urine output monitoring is one of the most useful guides we have in following progress of shocked patients. A 24-hour urinary output of 1000 mL or greater is within the normal range. Early diagnosis of postoperative oliguria is extremely important. Incipient acute renal failure can often be recognised early and reversed.


102 Performance Guidelines

Changes in Fluid Balance during the Postoperative Period There is increased secretion of many hormones after surgery (catecholamines, Cortisol and adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), aldosterone, antidiuretic hormone (ADH), glucagon, growth hormone) and decreased secretion of others (e.g. insulin). The net result is that both salt and water are retained temporarily by the kidneys. This results in a transient and minor fall in urine flow for 24-48 hours after major injury and a dilution of electrolytes in serum and extracellular fluid. Sodium is also retained, but not to the same degree as water, so sodium is also temporarily diluted. The reality of this is easily checked by looking at virtually any serum electrolyte measurement after an operation, and seeing that the levels of ions such as sodium often seem to fall below their normal range, and plasma osmolality is also lowered. Remember that this effect is a dilutional effect and does not imply a need for giving more ions — quite the opposite in fact, since ions are already being retained by the kidneys. After the first 24-48 hours, the hormonal effects on the kidneys progressively disappear, and the kidneys can be relied on to make good the electrolyte adjustments required by the body — provided they are given enough fluid and electrolytes with which to work. Postoperative Water Balance Obligatory water losses are around 1500 mL per 24 hours (1000 mL insensible loss from lungs and skin, 500 mL minimal obligatory urine volume). Obligatory water losses may increase after surgery because of tachypnoea or fever. However, renal losses diminish often to between 700-1000 mL in the first 24 hours. Therefore, 2.5 L per 24 hr is usually adequate fluid replacement for adults in the first 24 hours after surgery (not 1,5 litres as is currently ordered in this man). As the kidneys begin to excrete more water, the amount of fluid should be increased to approximately 3 L per 24 hours. This is the baseline replacement for adults of average spectrum of size and weight. But it must be remembered that any other losses (e.g. nasogastric suction), must be replaced in addition to the 2.5 or 3 L; and this patient has already lost an additional 600 mL of gastric aspirate. Postoperative Electrolyte Balance Sodium Renal excretion of Na+ diminishes in the first 24 hours after surgery due to increased aldosterone and Cortisol secretion so there may be no need to give Na+ in this period. However, unidentified losses of Na+ can occur with injury or surgery (third space losses); and because of the uncertainty, it is more common to see sodium being given than withheld during this period up to one litre daily, and usually this causes no problems. Nevertheless, it is well to remember that this is probably in excess to body requirements and sodium should be withheld or given with caution in elderly patients, or those with failing hearts. This patient has no such problems and we have evidence of continuing gastric electrolyte losses of sodium. Once the first 24 hours is past, then sodium requirements return towards normal, and a figure of 150 mmol per day is adequate (which conveniently is represented by 1 L of normal saline). With the hormone-driven retention of sodium in the first 24 hours, there tends reciprocally to be increased K+ loss in the urine. However, this loss is small, and not until after this first 24-hour period is it important to replace K+. Note also that potassium given intravenously


102 Performance Guidelines immediately after surgery will just tend to be excreted by the kidney. After the first 24 hours 2gm of K+ in a litre gives 26.8 mmol of K; and so if given in 3 L, provides around 80 millimoles K+ a day, which is quite adequate. Intravenous Fluids Used in Surgery a) 5% Dextrose in Water: This is isotonic (isosmolar) with extracellular fluid, and is therefore the solution to use if you think a patient is dehydrated (i.e. deficient in water alone — for example by fever or absence of normal intake) and needs water. Giving 500 mL of 5% Dextrose intravenously over a short period, say an hour, is a useful manoeuvre if you think dehydration (i.e. pure water deficit) is the cause of a patient's low urine output. This can be thought of as giving the patient a drink intravenously. This patient needs a drink of salty water, however — he is being 'de-salinated' by his previous vomiting and peritonitis and by continuing gastric losses. b) Normal (isotonic) Saline: This is 0.9% NaCI and in one litre contains approximately 150 mmol of Na+ and 150 mmol of CI"; so at 300 millimolar concentration it is roughly similar in equivalence to extracellular fluid — it might be regarded as unsophisticated extracellular fluid replacement. This form of fluid and electrolyte depletion (ECF) is by far the one most commonly seen in surgical patients, and gives classical signs (firm woody tongue, decreased tissue turgor, sunken eyes). c) 4% Dextrose in 1/5 normal Saline: This is an isotonic solution comprising 4/5 dextrose and 1/5 saline; 1/5 isotonic Saline (equals 30 millimolar Na) is mixed with 4% Dextrose to increase the tonicity back to that of plasma. Three litres daily of this solution gives 90 mmol sodium which is usually quite adequate for daily requirements. d) Solutions such as Ringer-Lactate and Hartmann solution use lactate to increase their tonicity and more closely mimic extracellular fluid composition. They also contain some of the other cations and anions of extracellular fluid (K, Ca. Mg. CI) in roughly the concentration found in extracellular fluid. Therefore, they can be regarded as sophisticated extracellular fluid replacement. However remember that lactate is metabolised in the liver, with the release of bicarbonate. Thus in acidotic situations it makes good sense to give such solutions; but not if the patient is alkalotic. e) Potassium-containing fluids: Potassium is the main cation of intracellular fluid. Potassium requirements are broadly similar to sodium. But in contrast to sodium, extracellular and intravascular concentrations of potassium are low (3-5 mmol/L). and high concentrations are cardioplegic and can cause cardiac arrest. So NEVER give potassium in a higher concentration than 30-40 mmol/L, and preferably do not exceed 26.8 mmol/L (2 gm KCI in 1 litre). f) Haemaccel: This is used in situations where there has been rapid blood loss and when it is important to maintain a normal blood volume while awaiting blood for replacement. It consists of sulphated gelatine (produced from crushed horses' hooves, so it can be allergenic) with an average molecular weight of 30,000 Daltons. It is more or less isotonic and the gelatine has a half life of between 30-120 minutes, so its use is very much an interim measure to swell blood volume. The patient needs isotonic replacement for suspected insufficient ECF ('Saline') replacement together with replacement of continuing losses (i.e. gastric aspirate), which can be thought of as roughly equivalent to the same volume of isotonic saline. Intravenous hydrochloric acid cannot be given readily, and gastric juice contains a lot of sodium as well as hydrogen ion and chloride.


102 Performance Guidelines Distinguishing •

acute prerenal postoperative oliguria due to prerenal circulatory insufficiency from

established acute oliguric renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis, is very important, as the first responds to volume loading, and in the latter case the kidneys are unresponsive. Apart from the important clinical signs and the initial response to a bolus loading, help may be obtained from urinary electrolyte findings (Table 2).


Urinary findings expected in postoperative oliguric patient Prerenal oliguria (renal circulatory insufficiency) Urine sodium Low (< 20 mmol/L) Urine osmolality or specific High (> 1,500 mmol/L) (S.G > gravity 1020) High Urine urea and creatinine

Intrinsic acute oliguric renal failure (acute tubular necrosis) High (> 50 mmol/L) Low (< 1,000 mmol/L) (S.G < 1050) Low

The urine composition in the instance of intrinsic renal failure resembles an ultrafiltrate of plasma due to impaired tubular function. This would be a highly unlikely diagnosis in the current circumstances, with no preoperative evidence of pre-existing renal impairment, and no evidence of intraoperative complication. Composition of Abnormal Losses Seen in Surgical Patients Gastrointestinal fluids all contain significant amounts of sodium and varying amounts of chloride and bicarbonate (Table 3). For unsophisticated and usually satisfactory replacement of abnormal gastrointestinal fluids one can use simple isotonic 0.9% saline. The only caveats are with small children whose kidneys are not yet fully capable of handling sodium loads, and with elderly frail patients with cardiac insufficiency. CONDITION 102. TABLE 3.

Gastrointestinal Secretions Daily Fluid (litres) Saliva 1.0 Gastric juice 1.5 Bile Pancreatic juice Intestinal juice


1.0 1.5 2.0

Sodium (mmol/L) 50 100

Potassium (mmol/L) 20 15

Chloride (mmol/L) 40 200

Bicarbonate (mmol/L) 50

100 150 150

5 5 5-15

40 40 110-150

40 120 5-30


102 Performance Guidelines Note that it isotonic saline is used to replace prolonged bowel fistula losses, deficiencies of potassium and of bicarbonate are likely to be induced so that more sophisticated intravenous fluids, including special hypertonic intravenous parenteral nutrition fluids delivered by a central line, may be necessary. For temporary intravenous fluid management over only several days, simple isotonic intravenous solutions given by peripheral limb lines are all that is usually required.


103 Performance Guidelines

Condition 103 Evaluation of lung function by spirometry in a 22-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to perform and interpret spirometry in a subject with previous asthma. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 22-year-old accountant. You had occasional mild attacks of asthma until the age of 11 years. You required only occasional bronchodilator treatment with Ventolin®. You have had no symptoms since the age of 11 years. You jog regularly and play tennis without any limitation. You are otherwise very well. You have not had your lung function measured previously. Listen carefully to the doctor and do as you are asked. When performing the first blow do it incorrectly by taking less than a full breath in and blowing out slowly for six seconds before giving a maximal effort. These manoeuvres should be practised with the examiner before the start of the first candidate. If the doctor does not give you appropriate instructions repeat the same error. Only give a maximal effort if instructed to do this. Questions to ask if not already covered: •

‘What do the results mean?'

If told results are normal, ask 'Does it mean I no longer have asthma?'


Use a nose clip.

Insert a clean mouthpiece.

Advise the patient to: ~ undertake a maximum inspiration; ~ give maximum effort during expiration; ~ ensure expiration continues for six seconds, or until candidate comments that the technique was faulty when the effort can be abandoned; and ~ repeats the manoeuvre until acceptable and reproducible efforts have been achieved; reproducible efforts are less than 200 mL or less than 5% variation for both FEV1 and FVC.

Identifies FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in 1 second) and FVC (forced vital capacity) correctly (do not penalise for use of wrong scale).

Compares patient's FEV1 and FVC with normal values and calculates FEV1 as a percentage of FVC.

Disposes of used mouthpiece.


103 Performance Guidelines • Explains test results which are very likely to be normal. Normal results do not indicate that asthma has remitted; they indicate that at present there is no evidence of airway obstruction KEY ISSUES • Approach to patient — gives clear advice and corrects errors with constructive advice. • Familiarity with test equipment • Performance of procedure or task — detects errors and obtains reproducible efforts. • Interpretation of investigation — accurately calculates FEV1 and FVC. • Patient counselling — explains test results. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to recommend maximal inspiration • Failure to recommend maximal expiratory effort. • Failure to calculate FEV1. COMMENTARY The diagnosis and ongoing management of asthma require objective measurements of reversible airways obstruction using pulmonary function tests. The diagnosis of asthma is usually confirmed by spirometry measurements before and after the administration of inhaled, short-acting β-agonist bronchodilator. Although spirometry is ostensibly a simple test that can be performed in a medical practitioner's office and requires the recording of a forced expiratory volume-time curve using a spirogram, there are some pitfalls that must be avoided to ensure that valid and accurate results are obtained. Patient education is critically important to ensure compliance and best effort by the patient. Forced expiratory volume measurement must be recorded from a state of maximal inspiration. All expired air must be captured and nasal air escape or escape of expired air around the mouthpiece due to poor sealing of the lips around the mouthpiece, or partial tongue obstruction of the mouthpiece, can give false readings The two key components of the test result are the forced expiratory volume that is produced in the first second (FEV1) and the percentage this contributes to the total expiratory volume or forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC). Typical examples are shown in the figures.


103 Performance Guidelines


Most patients with asthma will show FEV1 < 80% predicted normal value and FEV1/FVC < 80% predicted normal value plus a significant (>10%) increase in FEV1 after bronchodilator. The following factors are taken into account in determining predicted normal values: age, gender, weight, height, surface area. Some patients with asthma will have normal spirometry test results, but sensitivity of airways to bronchoconstrictor stimuli and additional pulmonary function tests, including lung volume and diffusing capacity measurements, can be assessed further in a specialised pulmonary function laboratory.



104 Performance Guidelines

Condition 104 A suspected fractured clavicle in a 20-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise a fractured clavicle on an X-ray film of the shoulder area (the degree of deformity is mild so that open reduction/fixation is not indicated), and to advise and initiate appropriate treatment by clavicular restraint.

EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You fell heavily onto the point of your right shoulder earlier today. The area has been painful since. Movement of the shoulder increases the pain. You have sought medical advice — the doctor has examined you and arranged for an X-ray of your shoulder. This has just been done. The doctor will now discuss the injury and its treatment with you. Ask the doctor to show you the fracture on the X-ray. Opening statement ‘Is a bone broken, doctor?' Questions to ask unless already covered (answers in parentheses after questions): • 'How long will I need to keep the arm in the sling?' (Until review at two weeks) • 'Can I remove the sling to exercise my elbow?' (Yes) • 'What about in bed?' (Elevate shoulder and arm on pillows) • 'Do I have to have it X-rayed again?' (Not if clinical union proceeds normally) • 'Will there be any disfigurement?' (Minor residual bony thickening) • 'When will I be able to go back to work?' (Depends on work and progress in regaining use of arm — often 2-4 weeks)

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate is expected to diagnose the clavicular fracture and to begin appropriate conservative treatment with a supportive sling or other clavicular restraints. The candidate should: • Tell the patient what is wrong and what will happen including a time frame for treatment. • Commence treatment demonstrating skill in maintaining alignment of the clavicular fragments using methods which will pull the whole shoulder girdle upwards and backwards (figure of eight bandaging or clavicular restraint shoulder rings tied together at back): and which immobilise and support the shoulder by the use of a sling. A well applied sling elevating and supporting the arm would be the most appropriate form of treatment with this minimally displaced fracture. • Avoid complications by testing for excessive tightness of the bandage/rings, advising finger, wrist and elbow joint exercises, removal of the sling after 7-10 days, and the bandage/rings if used, after three weeks when there is clinical evidence of union beginning (unduly prolonged immobilisation can result in a stiff shoulder).


104 Performance Guidelines


Ability to recognise fracture of clavicle on X-ray. Skill in treatment by optional use of figure of eight bandage or clavicular restraint shoulder rings; sling for arm and forearm (supporting shoulder).


Failure to recognise fracture on X-ray.

Failure to apply some form of appropriate shoulder and arm support

COMMENTARY Fractures of the clavicle are common in younger patients from falls on arm or shoulder. The usual break occurs at the midclavicle and the outer fragment is carried with the arm downwards and forwards, while the inner fragment usually rides up giving a step deformity. Healing is usually rapid with conservative treatment — nonunion can occur but is rare. Treatment consists of elevating and supporting the arm with a sling which helps relieve discomfort and helps to minimise displacement. Application of a sling is illustrated (Figures 2-5) Additional clavicular restraints can be used such as a figure of eight bandage, or shoulder rings tied together from behind to brace back the shoulders into the 'position of attention'. All of these tend to loosen quickly and to require frequent adjusting. Union is usually accompanied by a localised boss of exuberant callus. Remoulding occurs in the young with time and the cosmetic result is usually acceptable. Return of full arm function is also usual.


104 Performance Guidelines





Application of a supportive sling




Integrated Diagnosis and Management (D/M>

4-A: Clinical Perspectives and Priorities Bryan W Yeo 'Experience is the mother of truth; and by experience we learn wisdom.' W Shipperton (1736-1808) INTRODUCTION Clinical perspective is an essential skill that every clinician must strive to develop. It is never fully achieved, but should be A 22-year-old man with central steadily improved and refined throughout the lifetime of the abdominal pain which shifts to clinician. Proper perspective facilitates patient management, the right iliac fossa, with avoids unnecessary delay, allows better cost-effective anorexia and local tenderness treatment and achieves better communication with the patient, and rebound tenderness at McBurney point needs an especially when the prognosis is poor. appendicectomy, and not a Common things are common. This must be kept in mind as it white count, CT or ultrasound helps priority-oriented management. Dysphagia associated scan of the abdomen or a battery with an oesophageal stricture could conceivably follow a of other unnecessary tests. This lightning strike to a sword swallower but is much more likely to basic maxim regrettably be due to one of two common causes — chronic reflux continues regularly to be oesophagitis or a carcinoma of the oesophagus. overlooked in hospital Pain in the right iliac fossa always raises the possibility of emergency departments. appendicitis. Episodes of spontaneously resolving nonspecific abdominal pain with minimal local signs are commonly seen in general practice, but persisting acute local pain with tenderness and guarding in the right iliac fossa of the abdomen is most likely due to one of three conditions — appendicitis, a tubal-ovarian problem (ovarian cyst, salpingitis, ectopic pregnancy), or a urinary tract problem (urinary calculus or infection). These should be considered first in the diagnosis before other less common causes (of which there are many). A 22-year-old man with central abdominal pain which shifts to the right iliac fossa, with anorexia and local tenderness and rebound tenderness at McBurney point needs an appendicectomy, and not a white count, CT or ultrasound of the abdomen or a battery of other unnecessary tests. This basic maxim regrettably continues regularly to be overlooked in hospital emergency departments. Perspective skills improve with accurate knowledge of the underlying anatomy and physiology. A forty-year-old woman with abdominal pain and signs of peritonitis in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen is most likely to have acute cholecystitis associated with gall stones. But also keep in mind a common condition such as appendicitis occurring in a less common site like the upper right quadrant. Simply diagnosing that a patient has 'gallstones' is not enough. The site of the gallstones is critical to the patient's condition and a priority in diagnosis. Correct siting determines the correct timing of surgical treatment with the least risk of serious complications. A patient with severe acute cholecystitis due to a stone obstructing the cystic duct should undergo cholecystectomy within five days of the onset of the attack. A patient with pancreatitis due



Clinical Perspectives and Priorities

to gallstones passing through the common bile duct is best managed initially with conservative treatment of the pancreatitis; cholecystectomy is performed when the pancreatitis has subsided in the second or third week of the initial admission. Thus, the particular complication caused by the gallstones will prioritise the timing of the surgery. Never is there a more important need for clinical perspective than in discussion with a patient who has surgery for a malignant disease. After resection of a colonic carcinoma, the subsequent development of malignant ascites associated with peritoneal metastases is an indication that the patient is unlikely to be helped by further surgery in the form of an open laparotomy. Furthermore, this later occurrence of ascites would have been predicted as a likely future complication after the first operation when the histopathology had revealed that the carcinoma had spread through the full thickness of the bowel into the omentum and pericolic tissue. Discussion of the prognosis with the patient after the first operation would be guarded and with discretion, based on the spread of the carcinoma identified in the histopathology of the resected bowel. Similarly, a patient with carcinoma of the pancreas and back pain due to lymphatic or perineural spread of the carcinoma is unlikely to be cured by a pancreatic resection. Clinical perspective is enhanced by knowing the frequency of a condition in a particular region. In a country where tuberculosis is widespread, drug treatment may be appropriately commenced before waiting for the results of cultures that may take several weeks. An experienced clinician correlates the frequency of the disease or condition in a particular location where the patient lives or has been, with cognisance of the patient's age and sex, and paying close attention to the anatomy and function relevant to the site of the clinical features. In this way, clinical perspective and priority management are enhanced. CLINICAL REASONING PERSPECTIVES Occam's razor often provides useful diagnostic perspectives, applying the principle of diagnostic parsimony/unification, thus explaining multiple phenomena by a unifying single cause. Example 1 — Melioidosis: A 50-year-old surgeon felt quite well after returning from an interstate congress, until performing poorly at his usual game of recreational tennis (he served three double faults in a row, felt cold, and unduly tired despite minimal exercise). He lay down for a rest. His wife noted an hour later that he was ashen-faced, clammy and shivering uncontrollably. She summoned an ambulance and he was taken to hospital. His temperature was 40 °C, pulse 130/min, blood pressure 110/60 mmHg. He looked very ill. The only positive findings were basal lung crackles. X-ray showed bronchopneumonia changes. Arterial blood gas analysis showed gross hypoxia and desaturation. Blood cultures were taken and immediate treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics was begun. After 24 hours his condition had improved somewhat but fever and chest signs persisted. The respiratory physician in charge was not satisfied that the diagnosis was of pneumonia alone. Further detailed history showed that the patient and some colleagues had gone on a far northern Australia tour immediately after the conference. While wading in a lagoon he had abraded his heel drawing a bead of blood. Shortly after the improvement in his chest signs, his heel was noted on re-examination to be slightly swollen and tender, with an inconspicuous area of subcutaneous induration in the adjacent ankle region as illustrated.



Clinical Perspectives and Priorities

SECTION 4-A. FIGURE 1. Site of heel abrasion

SECTION 4-A. FIGURE 2. Subcutaneous induration around ankle

The diagnosis of melioidosis was subsequently confirmed on serum antibody testing. He had continuing antibiotic treatment for several weeks with progressive improvement. One month later he had fully recovered. Melioidosis is caused by a free-living, small, motile, aerobic Gram-negative saprophytic bacillus (Burkholderia pseudomallei, formerly called Pseudomonas pseudomallei) found in soil and ponds in tropical environments. Infection is through soil contamination of abrasions followed by subcutaneous infections, bacteraemia and lesions in the lung and elsewhere. The organism is endemic in northern tropical Australia. Fulminating infection can be rapidly progressive and requires life-saving prompt antibiotic and resuscitative treatment without awaiting confirmation from culture or immune antibody tests. Careful clinical assessment in this instance led to linkage between the primary site of infection (initially nonsymptomatic and overshadowed by the subsequent prostrating illness), and the associated pneumonia to identify a single cause. Example 2 — Breast cancer: A 60-year-old woman presented with persisting back pain. She had breast cancer surgery two years before. Think of bony metastasis ahead of osteoporosis. Example 3 — Melanoma: A 40-year-old man presented with a firm nodal groin lump. Direct questioning was required to reveal the history of removal of a small mole from the lower leg two years before. The diagnosis was metastatic melanoma. Occam's razor is likely to be of particular benefit when applied to the systemic effects of malignancies, or linked manifestations of widespread septic, vascular or metabolic disease.



Clinical Perspectives and Priorities

Example 4 — Melanoma: A 45-year-old woman had a malignant melanoma excised from her thigh. Two years later she presented with a mechanical small bowel obstruction requiring surgical relief. She had no previous history of abdominal surgery. The preoperative diagnosis, which was confirmed at surgery, was based on knowledge of the natural history of modes of spread of melanoma. She had a metastatic melanotic deposit in the small bowel submucosa causing an intussusception — a classical although infrequent association. Example 5 — Lymphoma: A 75-year-old man presented with a slowly growing, painless subcutaneous lump in the left cheek. Examination findings were of a focal firm discrete lump 2.5 cm in diameter, in the substance of the parotid gland. There was no facial nerve involvement and no intraoral extension. No other neck lumps were apparent, nor were there any suspicious skin lesions of scalp or neck. The clinical features were consistent with the diagnosis of a pleomorphic adenoma of the parotid, the most common parotid neoplasm, requiring superficial parotidectomy. Further questioning revealed that five years previously he had had a left groin lump removed, which on histology was a low-grade non-Hodgkin follicular lymphoma. No other manifestations of lymphoma were found at that stage. He was treated expectantly after local excision, and had had no intervening symptoms. Computed tomography (CT) of the head and neck confirmed a 2.5 cm focal solid lump of homogeneous texture within the superficial left parotid, without other abnormality. Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) was performed and showed a uniform cellular aspirate of small lymphoid cells consistent with a low-grade lymphoma. Flow-cytometryon the aspirate confirmed this as a low-grade B cell monoclonal lymphoma consistent with the previous groin node pathology. He was treated by intravenous infusion of the monoclonal antibody rituximab (Mabthera®) with rapid halving in size of the lump. Over the subsequent five years no change in the parotid lump occurred; a few nodes in the upper cervical chain became palpable but remitted after two further infusions. He remained well and symptom-free for five years. He then developed acute dysphagia for solids and liquids, and an oesophageal carcinoma was suspected. Oesophagoscopy showed narrowing of the lower oesophagus with benign histology on endoscopic mucosal biopsy. A chest CT and barium swallow showed extrinsic compression of the lower oesophagus by an enlarged posterior mediastinal lymph node mass, over which the oesophagus was stretched with dilatation of the oesophagus above the stricture (Figure 3). After another course of rituximab infusions his symptoms rapidly improved and a repeat barium swallow six weeks later showed a normal oesophagus with resolution of the narrowing and shrinkage of the mediastinal nodal mass.




Clinical Perspectives and Priorities

He continues symptom-free and has resumed active professional and recreational activities (Figure 4). The above five examples illustrate the useful application of Occam's razor in systemic infective and neoplastic disease. However, 'Patients may have both fleas and lice (Tannhauser)'. With longer lifespans comes a greater tendency for multiple unrelated clinical problems to occur: so the razor is perhaps less sharp than it used to be. Example 6 — Diagnosis of small bowel obstruction: A 50-year-old woman had previous abdominal gynaecologic surgery for fibroids five years ago and presented with a recent onset of clinical SECTION 4-A. FIGURE 4. features suggesting small bowel obstruction. Initially treated conservatively as postsurgical adhesive obstruction, the diagnosis proved to be an obstructing caecal cancer when she later came to surgery Bryan W Yeo



Clinical Perspectives and Priorities

4-A Clinical Perspectives and Priorities Candidate Information and Tasks M CAT 105-112 105

Abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding in a 39-year-old woman after 9 weeks amenorrhoea


Recent insomnia in a 25-year-old man


Dandruff or head lice in a 6-year-old girl?


Recent orchidectomy for a testicular neoplasm in a 28-year-old man


Postnatal fatigue and exhaustion in a 28-year-old woman


Fundus greater than dates in a 26-year-old woman at 30 weeks gestation


Tiredness and anaemia in a 55-year-old woman


Colonoscopy findings in a 24-year-old man with chronic diarrhoea



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 105 Abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding in a 39-year-old woman after 9 weeks amenorrhoea CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your patient is a 39-year-old woman who has been married for 12 months and suffered a spontaneous abortion at eight weeks of gestation six months ago. This was her only previous pregnancy. An ambulance has brought her to the hospital today because of severe lower abdominal pain and heavy vaginal bleeding for the last 12 hours. Her last period was nine weeks ago. You are seeing her in the Emergency Department at the local hospital YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take any further relevant history you require (it should not take you more than 3-4 minutes to do this). • Ask the examiner for the appropriate findings you would look for on general and gynaecological examination, and then ask for any investigation results you feel are necessary to enable you to make a diagnosis. • Advise the patient, in lay terms, of the diagnosis and the subsequent management required. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 105 can be found on page 579



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 106 Recent insomnia in a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You work in a family medical centre. You are seeing the son of a recently deceased patient. You have known the family for many years, and have seen the son on many occasions before with childhood illnesses. You saw him last six months ago (prior to him taking flying lessons) at which time a full general examination was normal. The son is now 25 years old, single and a university student. He is consulting you because of difficulty sleeping over the past month since the unexpected death of his father. Prior to the death there had been no problems sleeping, except immediately prior to the university examinations. There is no relevant past history and his general health previously has been excellent. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Take a focused and relevant history, to enable you to diagnose the cause of the insomnia.

Develop a management plan.

Counsel the patient.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 106 can be found on page 582



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 107 Dandruff or head lice in a 6-year-old girl? CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You have just examined 6-year-old Jodie, who has been brought to a general practice by her mother because of an itchy scalp and what appears to be dandruff in her hair. Her parent is concerned that she may have lice in her hair which have been reported among other children at her school. Jodie has excellent health otherwise. She has a 4-year-old brother who occasionally scratches his scalp. On inspection of her scalp you have found 'white specks' which are firmly stuck to the hairs as illustrated Eyelashes and eyebrows show no abnormality. There is no scalp dermatitis, though some redness consistent with scratching is evident. YOUR TASK IS TO: • Explain your diagnosis and management plan to the parent, who is concerned as to whether this is lice or dandruff.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 107 can be found on page 585



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 108 Recent orchidectomy for a testicular neoplasm in a 28-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a metropolitan general practice. A 28-year-old university student recently had his testis removed (three weeks ago) because he had noticed a painless lump in the scrotum. The surgeon had told him that it was a tumour of the testis and gave him photographs of the tumour that has been resected (see below). The student has now moved interstate because of his studies and he has consulted you. his new general practitioner, concerned about his future management. The surgeon said that he would forward details of the operation once informed of the new general practitioner's name, and that the patient would need further tests and followup. You have just finished examining the patient. He has a well-healed right inguinal incision, the remaining testis feels normal, there are no abnormalities on examination of abdomen, chest, or head and neck. YOUR TASK IS TO: • Discuss his followup and answer his questions and concerns. There is no need for you to take any additional history or perform any examination



The Performance Guidelines for Condition 108 can be found on page 587



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 109 Postnatal fatigue and exhaustion in a 28-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. The patient is a 28-year-old mother of two children who presents with a two-week history of broken sleep, fatigue and exhaustion. She is accompanied by her husband. Peter, who is a 30-year-old manager of a travel agency. They live locally with his parents whilst they save for a house. They have a 10-week-old son, Thomas, who is breastfed, and 30-month-old daughter. She is a nonsmoker and nondrinker. Your practice records show that both pregnancies and deliveries were normal and uneventful. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take a further appropriate history to evaluate the possible causes of her symptoms. You do not need to perform a physical examination. • Provide a likely diagnosis to the examiner and give your reasons for selecting this diagnosis. •

Outline briefly your management approach to the examiner.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 109 can be found on page 589

Condition 110 Fundus greater than dates in a 26-year-old woman at 30 weeks gestation CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS Your patient is a 26-year-old primigravida. She has been attending the general practice where you are working and seeing the doctors there in a shared care arrangement with a specialist in a major city 30 km away. She is not due to see the specialist again for a further six weeks. All appeared to be normal up to and including her last visit at 26 weeks of gestation, when the symphysis-fundal height was 28 cm. Today, four weeks later at 30 weeks of gestation, the symphysis-fundal height is 40 cm, and a weight gain of 6 kg has occurred during the four week time interval. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Take any further relevant history you require. • Ask the examiner about the relevant findings on examination and the results of specific previous investigations which you believe would have been performed. • Advise the patient of the diagnosis and subsequent management. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 110 can be found on page 593



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 111 Tiredness and anaemia in a 55-year-old woman CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Your next patient is a 55-year-old woman who consulted you two days ago complaining of recent fatigue and mild breathlessness on exertion. There were no other symptoms. Past and family histories were not helpful. The patient is a nonsmoker, rarely drinks alcohol, and has a normal diet. She is two years postmenopausal. On clinical examination the only abnormal finding was pallor. She had a resting pulse rate of 88/min (regular). Cardiovascular system was otherwise normal. Abdominal and rectal examinations were normal. Urine examination was normal. You suspected anaemia and arranged a full blood examination. The results are as follows: Haemoglobin

97 g/L


8.5 x 109/L (4.5-11)



74 fL


The red cells show some microcytosis, anisocytosis and poikilocytosis.



Tell the examiner what further blood tests are required to confirm the type of anaemia. The results will be provided.

Explain the problem to the patient.

Advise the patient about what should be done.

Respond to any questions asked by the patient.

You will not be required to take any additional history or perform any further clinical examination. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 111 can be found on page 596



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 112 Colonoscopy findings in a 24-year-old man with chronic diarrhoea CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. A 24-year-old man with chronic diarrhoea had a recent colonoscopy for the investigation of his diarrhoea. For the previous six months he was passing bloody stools six to seven times per day without any mucus or slime. He was told he had inflammatory bowel disease but could not remember any specific names. The specialist who did the colonoscopy did however give him a copy of the photographs taken of the colon; and told him that the appearance was similar for the whole of the large bowel. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Interpret the colonoscopy illustrations.

• Advise the patient which disease you believe is likely, and what treatment is likely to be required. You are not required to take any further history. The endoscopist has sent you a detailed letter but it has not yet arrived.



The Performance Guidelines for Condition 112 can be found on page 599


Clinical Perspectives and Priorities

4-A Clinical Perspectives and Priorities Performance Guidelines MCAT 105-112 105

Abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding in a 39-year-old woman after 9 weeks amenorrhoea


Recent insomnia in a 25-year-old man


Dandruff or head lice in a 6-year-old girl?


Recent orchidectomy for a testicular neoplasm in a 28-year-old man


Postnatal fatigue and exhaustion in a 28-year-old woman


Fundus greater than dates in a 26-year-old woman at 30 weeks gestation


Tiredness and anaemia in a 55-year-old woman


Colonoscopy findings in a 24-year-old man with chronic diarrhoea


105 Performance Guidelines

Condition 105 Abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding after 9 weeks amenorrhoea, in a 39-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to define the possible causes of lower abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding, and to manage a patient with these symptoms in the presence of 'cervical' shock. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are attending the Emergency Department of the local hospital because of severe lower abdominal pain and heavy vaginal bleeding. Your blood pressure is low. You are lying on a couch and the doctor is taking your history. The list of responses below is likely to cover most of the questions you will be asked. List of appropriate answers: • You have been trying to conceive since the last miscarriage and have not used contraception. • Your last period occurred nine weeks ago; you had hoped you were pregnant. • You normally have periods usually every four weeks, lasting five days. • Bleeding and pain started 12 hours ago. • You have already used more pads than you usually use in a whole period; and have passed a number of clots and possibly pieces of tissue. • The pain is in the lower abdomen. The pain is coming and going every 5-10 minutes. There is no radiation of pain to the back or elsewhere. • There is no dizziness. • You do not know your blood group. Questions to ask unless already covered: • 'Am I pregnant again?' • 'Can anything be done to save my pregnancy?' • 'If I'm losing the pregnancy why is this occurring?' • 'This would be my second pregnancy lost — why has this occurred?'


105 Performance Guidelines Examination findings to be given to the candidate by the examiner on request General appearance: Cardiovascular:

She Is clammy, pale, obviously distressed and in pain. Pulse


Blood pressure 80/50 mmHg Abdominal examination:

Lax, non-tender. No mass or viscus palpable.

Speculum examination:

Cervix open, products of conception (POC) in cervical os. (If the candidate does not ask if the cervix is open or closed, don't give this information but comment on uterine size alone).

Pelvic examination:

The uterus is enlarged to the size of an eight week pregnancy, anteverted and mobile. Cervical os is open and easily admits one finger. Products of contraception are felt in the cervix. No adnexal masses or tenderness.

Investigation results (Give these results if the specific test is requested): Blood group

O Rh negative, indirect Coombs test negative.


112 g/L.

If candidate requests coagulation studies, ultrasound examination or pregnancy test, these are unavailable and unnecessary, and should be considered so by the examiner and the candidate marked down accordingly.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should advise the patient along the following lines. This is an incomplete abortion (miscarriage) The products of conception (POC) need to be removed from the cervix immediately to treat the shock and reduce the bleeding. This should be done in the Emergency Department An intravenous line should be inserted, simultaneously with blood sampling for blood grouping and holding of serum for cross-typing if shock persists after removal of POC. Give ergometrine or a similar oxytocic intravenously to reduce blood loss. Give anti-D as patient is Rh negative. Candidates not asking to determine the blood group, should be marked down accordingly. She needs curettage as soon as possible to ensure uterus is empty and to control the bleeding. Send curettings for histologic examination although the cause for the miscarriage probably will not be established with certainty by this examination. If BP still remains less than 110 systolic when the POC have been removed from the cervix, further intravenous fluid replacement (with possible blood transfusion) will be required In discussing causes of an incomplete miscarriage in a 39-year-old woman when the emergency has been dealt with, and prior to discharge from hospital, the candidate should indicate that the loss was probably because of a chromosomal abnormality of the fetus, and that such miscarriages unfortunately become more common as women get older The likelihood of a miscarriage the next time she gets pregnant is probably about 25-30%.


105 Performance Guidelines In the next pregnancy an ultrasound should be done at about seven weeks of gestation to provide reassurance that all is normal, maternal serum screening is advised, nuchal fold assessment at 11-12 weeks of gestation is advised, and a decision ultimately made, if all is apparently going normally, whether a chorion villus biopsy or amniocentesis should be performed in view of her advanced maternal age and increased risk of a fetal chromosome abnormality. KEY ISSUES • Ability to define the likely cause of the symptoms and the low blood pressure found • Ability to recognise that no investigations are required in this patient other than urgent determination of blood group, as the diagnosis can clearly be made on clinical grounds. • Ability to define the subsequent management plan. CRITICAL ERRORS • Inappropriate investigation requested such as pregnancy test after results of physical examination are known, ultrasound examination, or coagulation screen. • Failure to recognise the need to remove POC from cervix. • Failure to check blood group to see if anti-D antibody was indicated. COMMENTARY This case confirms the importance of the performance of a speculum and vaginal examination in a woman who presents with a history of bleeding and lower abdominal pain after a period of amenorrhoea. This case in particular demonstrates the need to recognise POC trapped in the cervical os and causing 'cervical' shock. The importance of removing the products of conception from the cervical os and administering ergometrine to contract the uterus and prevent or reduce further bleeding cannot be stressed too highly. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • When taking the history not being focused enough to the actual problem but asking for information such as irrelevant past history, social history and so on. This just takes time to do, and reduces the time available for the remaining tasks. Adequate diagnosis and resuscitation have first priority in this case • Failing to determine that there are POC in the cervical os, and that a diagnosis of incomplete miscarriage is therefore able to be made without the need for further investigation. If the cervix is still closed, ultrasound is required to define whether the pregnancy is in the uterus, and whether it is viable. • Failing to advise the probable cause of the miscarriage and the likely outcome of future pregnancies.


106 Performance Guidelines

Condition 106 Recent insomnia in a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to evaluate a recent onset of a sleep problem by taking a focused history and then to counsel the patient. This sleep disturbance is part of a normal grief reaction and possibly post-traumatic stress related to a failed resuscitation attempt at the time of his father's death. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a second year architecture student at the local university. You passed all your subjects last year without any difficulty and did not anticipate having problems this year. You enjoy your studies and do not find them difficult. You have your next set of university exams in three weeks time and have some concerns about these as you did very little study after your father died, and haven't managed to catch up with your assignments and coursework yet. You haven't advised the Faculty Office, or any of your lecturers about the death of your father one month ago, nor explained the time you were absent from your course (2 weeks), or that you have had difficulty studying (one month). Your father died suddenly at home a month ago at the age of 49 years. He had never had an illness in his life, and was sitting watching the TV when he suddenly collapsed. You were studying at the time in your bedroom, but your mother called you to help with the resuscitation. Both you and she did this, getting advice over the telephone having dialled '000', until the Intensive Care Ambulance arrived. At no stage were you able to get a pulse going. A Coronial postmortem examination was done and showed the major artery to the main ventricle of the heart was blocked, and this was the probable cause of death. You have never had difficulty sleeping in the past, except for the night before an examination where you felt your preparation might have been inadequate and have never taken any drug treatment for this. You have never been seriously unwell in your life, have never used drugs of any sort, but have not played any sport since starting your university studies. You are still living at home because you cannot afford to move into a flat, and haven't had time to take on a regular job except during the long university vacations. You are also an only child and your parents encouraged you to stay at home to save money. Since your father's death, your mother has coped reasonably well despite being initially depressed, and expects to receive a pension from your father's previous employer (Australia Post). She thinks this will be enough for you to be able to continue with your studies, as the house is fully paid off and her pension will be about $500 per week. On specific enquiry, deny feelings of hopelessness, despair or guilt. You have felt sad but have been able to be cheered up by your friends — for example when they insisted on taking you out to a movie recently. You have no suicidal thoughts. After the death you did not eat very well but your appetite has since improved. You have not suffered panic attacks. You are anxious about the impending examinations, as you do not think you are well enough prepared for them You have no history of mental illness or psychological problems.


106 Performance Guidelines Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'Would it be worth taking some sleeping pills?'

‘Is my heart going to be OK?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The history must include relevant information about the father's death, the involvement of the son at the time, how the rest of the family are coping with the death itself and with any problems which have resulted. How much time away from university studies resulted and whether any special consideration has been applied for must also be determined. Concern that the patient has about the possibility of genetic predisposition to early age heart disease should be discussed, including possible referral to a cardiologist for a full checkup (although it is unlikely anything would be found to be wrong as the flying examination was normal six months ago). Blood lipid studies would normally be performed. The candidate is expected to exclude depressive illness, anxiety disorder or other psychiatric conditions. Absence of pre-existing problems and the onset of sleeping problems at the time of bereavement, as well as symptom profile should exclude these. Short-term treatment of insomnia due to the acute stress of bereavement, utilising hypnotics such as temazepam (10-20 mg) at night, may be indicated. Explanation that their use to break a vicious cycle is unlikely to result in dependence when their use does not exceed two weeks, is important. Antidepressant drugs with sedative properties are not generally indicated unless a depressive illness is the principal problem Empathie advice should also be given about the normal nature of this response to loss Candidates may suggest coping strategies such as using behavioural techniques; cognitive strategies to cope with intrusive thoughts; general measures such as regular exercise, avoidance of heavy meals, alcohol and caffeine-containing drinks between the evening meal and bedtime should be stressed. The candidate should advise that review of heart disease risk factors should be delayed until later, after he is over the current problem. The candidate should offer to check progress, offer to counsel other members of the family as well and should also recommend to the patient that it would be wise to notify his Year Coordinator in the Architecture Faculty of the death and his disturbance in studying. Such advice needs to be given prior to the actual examinations if 'special consideration' is ultimately necessary. KEY ISSUES • Displaying empathy with patient. • Appropriate history to determine diagnosis of the cause of insomnia. • Displaying appropriate counselling skills when advising the patient about the management of this problem, including other common problems which can occur. CRITICAL ERRORS • Prescribing antidepressants at this stage. • Omitting supportive interaction.


106 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY Grief is the emotional cost after the loss of someone or something precious and meaningful. Grief is painful and causes psychological anguish, waves of unpleasant dysphoria and distress, physiological arousal and a mixture of physical symptoms. It is a normal function of the human condition, and is not an illness. Insomnia in the early days and weeks following a loss is part of the adjustment process and should be managed expectantly in most instances. Individuals can cope and adapt if they realise that grief is part of the natural response to an emotional wound, and like a bruise, it will resolve, given time. In some people who cannot afford daytime fatigue or somnolence even for a few days after a restless night, then short-term treatment with a hypnotic, either a short-acting benzodiazepine such as temazepam, oxazepam or lorazepam. or a nonbenzodiazepine such as Zolpidem or zopiclone may be prescribed judiciously for up to two weeks. Rebound insomnia may still occur when the course of the hypnotic is tapered off. Grief-associated insomnia treated with hypnotics may be the start of chronic or lifelong psychological dependence on a benzodiazepine and requests for repeat prescriptions should usually be declined, with the focus switched to sleep hygiene strategies instead. Grief reactions such as anorexia and weight loss are common as is poor concentration, fatigue, absent-mindedness, auditory and visual or olfactory hallucinations involving the deceased, crying, rocking, wearing the clothing of the deceased, searching behaviours, feeling that life is not worth living, catastrophic cognitions about life in the future without the deceased ('How will I cope without. . . ? ' ) are also normal and not indicative of depression or indications for psychotropic treatment. It is normal to feel diminished and bereft when someone revered dies, but not to feel personally worthless, useless and hopeless with lowered self-esteem and irrational guilt or shame. Suicidal ideation is not part of normal grief, but deliberate self-harm afterwards may be cultural, or an expression of extreme dysphoria and not indicative of an intention to die. Marked functional impairment, prolonged anorexia and weight loss, persistent insomnia, significant psychomotor retardation, hypomania or manic behaviour or frank psychosis are all indications for antidepressant treatment, mood stabilisers including lithium carbonate, or atypical antipsychotics. Specialist referral may be necessary once grief overlaps with psychiatric illness. It would not be unusual for this young man or his mother to experience some elements of post-traumatic stress following their unsuccessful attempt at resuscitation. Anxiety, guilt, helplessness, horror and despair may be understandable sequelae to the incident, but fortunately he is not experiencing any of those feelings at this stage. Perhaps after his examinations are over or on subsequent anniversaries of the death, unpleasant and intrusive memories with nightmares and insomnia may appear, but that is for another scenario.


107 Performance Guidelines

Condition 107 Dandruff or head lice in a 6-year-old girl? AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's recognition and practical treatment of head lice — succinct, accurate, decisive information-giving is required. This should be done in a reassuring and supportive manner to reduce anxiety about the source, transmission and stigma associated with the infestation. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are the parent of 6-year-old Jodie and are concerned whether she has head lice because you have heard it is in the school, but you have never seen the condition before. If it is lice, you are concerned by the stigma of poor hygiene being deemed causative, as you regard Jodie's hygiene as being very good. You wonder if it will spread to other family members and whether the children can go to school, and want advice on treatment. Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'What is wrong with her, Doctor? Why is she scratching all the time?'

'How would she get this?'

'We are so careful with our hygiene!'

'What treatment can she have? Will it get rid of it?'

‘Her little brother scratches his head all the time. Could he have it as well?'

‘How do we treat it? Does she have to have her head shaved?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should explain: • the diagnosis is head lice; • the eggs (nits) can be seen; they can be mistaken for dandruff; • the infestation is usually contracted at school; • it spreads from person to person by direct contact; • it can spread quickly within the family; • it is not a sign of poor hygiene, and is common in our society; and • all family members need to be checked, and treated only if nits or lice are present. The candidate should advise and prescribe: • laundering of pillowcases using hot water or hot clothes dryer; and either ~ Application of pyrethrin-based scalp preparation to thoroughly cover hair, thorough rinsing, combing with a fine-toothed comb and drying with a clean towel. ~ Repeat in seven days. • OR alternatively: ~ Conditioner and comb every two days until no lice are seen for 10 days.


107 Performance Guidelines

Hair does not need to be shaved or cut short.

School exclusion after treatments is not required: the child can return the day after treatment.

Followup to check for resistance to the medication, then try malathion-based preparation.


Ability to make the correct diagnosis.

Succinct, accurate, decisive information-giving.

Ability to describe the correct treatment as outlined above.

Ability to reduce parental concern.


Failure to diagnose head lice.

COMMENTARY This case tests the candidate's recognition of a common problem, and the ability to provide succinct and empathie guidance on treatment. The dominant cue here is the presumptive end-diagnosis already provided by the parent, namely head lice. Because this is a common condition, the candidate will be expected to recognise the pattern of small white spots, or 'nits', which are the eggs of the infesting lice. The diagnosis should be made almost instantly, as there are no features of any associated dermatitis which could be suggested as an alternative. Candidates are expected to be able to explain this common condition, prescribe an appropriate regimen of treatment for head lice and achieve rapport with the parent in order to ensure compliance, reduce anxiety and achieve a satisfactory outcome.


'Nits' on hair


108 Performance Guidelines

Condition 108 Recent orchidectomy for a testicular neoplasm in a 28-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise the pathology specimen as an orchidectomy for neoplasm. To assess the candidate's knowledge of the investigations required and the adjuvant therapy used for management of testicular tumours, as well as prognosis following treatment. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: Opening statement 'I've forgotten the name the surgeon gave to my ondition?' Further questions to ask • 'Why was the incision made in the groin and not in the scrotum?' • 'My uncle, who is much older, recently noticed a lump in his scrotum, but his operation was done through an incision in the scrotum. Would the diagnosis of my uncle's condition have been the same or different?' • 'What other tests will I need?' • 'Is any other treatment now necessary for me?' • 'Do I need any further followup? If so, what would this involve?' • 'What is my outlook for the future?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE • The candidate should recognise that the specimen is of a malignant testicular neoplasm showing uniform macroscopic appearance consistent with a seminoma. • Appreciation that optimal treatment is excisional surgery as has been done, with additional chemoradiotherapy after referral • Investigations required — for tumour markers and imaging for possible metastases. • Appreciation of excellent prognosis when the tumour is confined to testis. • Knowledge of specific details of chemoradiotherapy is not essential. KEY ISSUES • The candidate should understand the spread of testicular tumours to the para-aortic retroperitoneal lymph nodes and the favourable prognosis with combined treatment of surgery radiotherapy and chemotherapy. CRITICAL ERRORS • To suggest that testicular tumours should be removed through a scrotal approach as used for benign lesions. • To suggest that no further tests or followup are required.


108 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY The testicular tumour as photographed has the typical features of a seminoma, which is a malignant tumour. Other malignant testicular tumours include teratomas and mixed tumours. Spread of these tumours may occur along lymphatics, which drain to the paraaortic lymph nodes initially (not inguinal). Retroperitoneal lymph node enlargement maybe evident on a computed tomogram (CT) of the abdomen. Tumour markers (cx-fetoprotein and /J-hCG estimations) are helpful in both initial diagnosis and subsequent followup after primary treatment, to help diagnose tumour recurrence. Surgery is performed through an inguinal incision, excising the testis and the cord to the level of the deep inguinal ring. A scrotal incision (or scrotal needling of the tumour) is contraindicated because of the potential risk of tumour implantation in the scrotal wall thus involving another lymphatic field. Scrotal incisions are satisfactory for benign scrotal conditions such as hydroceles or an epididymal cyst. Both the clinical signs and an ultrasound examination of the scrotum help clarify whether the lesion is a hydrocele or an epididymal cyst or a malignant testicular tumour. Adjuvant radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy after surgery has given a better survival rate for patients with seminoma and teratoma, the former having a better prognosis (5 year survival rates greater than 85%). Followup with clinical examination, tumour marker tests and CT is required. This patient needs referral to a radiation oncologist. Further imaging of his abdomen and chest by CT is required to stage the tumour fully. He is likely to require treatment by combined chemotherapy and abdominal radiation.


109 Performance Guidelines

Condition 109 Postnatal fatigue and exhaustion in a 28-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose postnatal depression with psychotic features and suicidal ideation, requiring urgent intervention. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 28-year-old woman who has been urged by your husband, Peter, to seek advice and treatment for poor sleep, increasing daytime fatigue and exhaustion over the past two weeks. You should give the following history without prompting — initially in a hesitant manner, but with increasing conviction as you proceed. Don't try to give all the history at once, but give it in reply to questions from the candidate. You should start by giving the information in the paragraph below. About ten weeks ago, you gave birth to your second child, Thomas, in the local maternity unit. The pregnancy, labour and delivery were uneventful. It was a planned pregnancy and everyone else is delighted that Thomas seems normal and healthy. You have breastfed him since birth. You have been happily married to Peter, who is 30, for five years and continue to live with his parents while you save for a home of your own. Although Peter is loving and supportive, he is committed to building up his travel agency business and is also doing a part time business degree, which keeps him busy six days a week. As soon as you arrived home from the hospital with Thomas, you began to have niggling doubts that there was something wrong with him. You had so much wanted to have a perfect child, the son that your husband and family would be so proud of. Despite the delight and reassurances of Peter, your extended families and the community baby health clinic nurses, you have become preoccupied with Thomas's health and wellbeing and your adequacy as a mother. Admit to 'possibly' being depressed if asked. Volunteer the following 'I'm really not coping well — I don't know what Is wrong with me — I feel I've lost my confidence — I can’ t make decisions — I'm having difficulty sleeping. It's been going on ever since I got home but much worse this past two weeks. I am really anxious the baby may stop breathing, like in SIDS. So I'm trying to wake every hour or so to check.' You have been constantly afraid that Thomas may stop breathing and suffer a sudden infant death, so you have forced yourself to sleep for only brief periods. You have become increasingly worried that Thomas is not feeding properly and is failing to thrive because of your insufficient supply of breast milk. So you have been weighing him at every opportunity, at the clinic, at home and weekly at the local hospital Emergency Department. Even though his weight appears to be increasing, you have become convinced that the various weighing scales are wrong and that, as his mother, you KNOW that he is not gaining weight.


109 Performance Guidelines

As far as you are concerned, it reflects poorly on your competence and adequacy as a mother. You cannot convince people that there is something wrong with your son, that his breathing fluctuates and he may die at any moment and that you will be blamed for this and that the quality of your breast milk is so poor than your son is not growing properly. You have come to believe that you are a bad mother and a failure and that as a result your son and daughter will be taken away from you and that your story will be highlighted in the media. You have begun to think that life is not worth living and that the shame and gossip from neighbours and friends which you are SURE is going on, would be stopped if you just go away somewhere and kill yourself. Then your family will be better off, because that will prove to them how much you loved your son, as his health problems are your entire fault. Increasingly over the last two weeks, you have not been sleeping well. Your appetite has diminished and you have been losing weight since Thomas was born. You have lost 6 kg in the past ten days. You are tired all of the time, you feel terrible inside and you feel anxious, agitated, unhappy, guilty and desperate. Your anxieties about your son's health and wellbeing have not been allayed by reassurances from your husband, your extended family, the clinic nurses or the hospital Emergency Department. Now you are worried that your husband's insistence on you coming to see the doctor means that he is planning to divorce you, because you have failed as a mother and a wife and brought shame to his family name. PSYCHOSOCIAL HISTORY •

You are the middle of three children with an older brother and younger sister.

Parents are alive and well, but live 100 km away.

Average student, good at Art. Completed Year 12.

Worked in advertising and studied graphic design at college.

Met husband through work. Your first and only serious relationship.

Married 5 years ago. Happy initially.

Describe yourself as a quiet, placid, socially anxious. Very home and family orientated — obsessional and conscientious.

Nonsmoker. Nondrinker.

Both pregnancies planned and relatively uneventful.

No postpartum problems with first pregnancy.

No past or family history of psychiatric disorder or illness.


No makeup, neat, casually dressed, but rumpled, uncombed hair.

Anxious and anguished appearance and manner.

Occasionally wringing hands.

Softly spoken, limited affective range.

Not tearful but sad, gloomy at times.

Not thought-disordered. No perceptual abnormalities.

Thought form normal, but convinced you are a failure and that your son is suffering because of your inadequacies.

Admit to ruminating about self-harm if asked, but insist you would NEVER harm your son, daughter, husband or anyone else (you might cut your own wrists or stab yourself).


109 Performance Guidelines

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Approach to the patient • Establishment of rapport. • Empathic, sensitive questioning. History-taking • Exploration of presenting symptoms. • The evolution of her mood disorder over time. • Premorbid and psychosocial factors. • The clarification of her beliefs. • The sensitive uncovering of her suicidal ideation. • Ask also to interview her husband and check health of children with him. Diagnosis Postnatal depression with melancholic features in a woman with premorbid anxious and obsessional traits. Treatment Urgent hospitalisation, if necessary invoking the powers of the relevant Mental Health legislation. This is a psychiatric emergency with a deepening depression. The risks of attempted or successful suicide and infanticide are real. Once in hospital, anxiolytics, antipsychotics and antidepressants should be commenced. Electroconvulsive therapy may be the treatment of choice initially with lithium carbonate maintenance. Whilst a mother and baby unit would the optimal hospital placement, very few areas of Australia offer this service. Therefore the mother should be admitted alone to a secure unit, where her safety and prompt treatment are the primary concerns. Breastfeeding should be terminated forthwith and agents administered (dopamine agonist) to reduce breast enlargement. Supervised visits with her infant son and other family members should be a daily occurrence. Prognosis is very good for complete recovery. Relapse likely in the future both postpartum or not, but lithium carbonate prophylaxis will improve prognosis and reduce likelihood of relapse. KEY ISSUES • Diagnosis of postnatal depression. • Potential suicidal ideation requiring urgent intervention. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to diagnose severe postnatal depression. • Failure to appreciate urgency of situation (including possible suicide) requiring hospitalisation.


109 Performance Guidelines COMMENTARY The diagnosis is postnatal depression with melancholia features, in a woman with premorbid anxious and obsessional traits. Her beliefs about her infant and her competence as a mother could be interpreted as overvalued ideas (and therefore not psychotic): or delusions (fixed, irrational false beliefs not amenable to evidence or persuasion to the contrary) which would suggest severe depression with psychotic features. Her depression began with hypochondriacal anxiety about her son's well being and this progressed to affect her view of herself as a mother and as a wife. She has comorbid anxiety symptoms, but her primary diagnosis is depression. Her suicidal ideation and her cognitions of guilt, shame, failure and inadequacy are of serious concern and require urgent intervention. This is not dysthymia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia.


110 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 0 Fundus greater than dates in a 26-year-old woman at 30 weeks gestation AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of the causes of a pregnant uterus being much larger than expected, and to convey the implications of this to the patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: List of appropriate answers to the questions likely to be asked: • Weight at the start of pregnancy was 56 kg. You now weigh 76 kg (height 160 cm). • No family history of diabetes, no glycosuria during the pregnancy, you had a glucose challenge test (GCT) at 26 weeks, you believe it was normal. • You had ultrasound examination at 18 weeks which confirmed the gestation and showed a single pregnancy, which was apparently normal. • No oedema, no headaches or visual disturbance, no proteinuria in pregnancy thus far. • Blood group O Rhesus positive, no blood group antibodies found (indirect Coombs test negative). • No one has ever commented about the possibility of uterine fibroids. Questions to ask unless already covered: • 'Why am I so big?' • 'Will my baby be OK?' • 'Will I be able to have a normal delivery?' Examination findings to be given to candidate by the examiner on request • Examination showed the symphysis-fundal height was 40 cm. • The uterus was tense, but not tender. • A fluid thrill was evident. • The presentation was cephalic, with the head being freely mobile above the pelvic brim. • Fetal heart was heard and was normal. • General examination showed no evidence of oedema, and the blood pressure was 120/80 mmHg.


110 Performance Guidelines

Investigation results to be given to candidate by the examiner on specific request •

Blood group O Rhesus positive, indirect Coombs test negative.

Urine test today — negative for protein and glucose.

GCT at 26 weeks of gestation had shown the blood glucose level, 1 hour after a 75 g glucose load, was normal.

Haemoglobin at 26 weeks was 114 g/L.

Ultrasound at 18 weeks showed a single baby of a size consistent with dates.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE Advice to patient (the candidate should convey the substance of what follows to the patient): • The diagnosis is that of a uterus which is larger than it should be, probably due to an excessive amount of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios). ~ This diagnosis needs to be confirmed with an ultrasound which would also look for the possible cause. Other matters the candidate may cover are as follows: ~ Other causes of a fundus greater than dates are: - Multiple pregnancy — this would have had to be missed at the time of the previous ultrasound examination at 18 weeks of gestation. This would appear unlikely. - A macrosomic (large size) baby — unlikely as no evidence of gestational diabetes. - Uterine fibroids, wrong dates — both of these should have been able to be diagnosed on the 18 week ultrasound examination. ~ Other concerning causes of polyhydramnios which need to be looked for include. - Fetal malformations of the central nervous system, gastrointestinal system, abdominal wall, or elsewhere. - Diabetes — therefore do a glucose tolerance test, even though GCT was normal. - Chorioangioma of the placenta — this should be looked for on ultrasound. - Fetal infection with cytomegalovirus or toxoplasmosis. Both of these can result in polyhydramnios. Polyhydramnios can cause problems in late pregnancy and labour including malpresentation, premature rupture of the membranes, premature labour, and placental abruption following membrane rupture. As she is now at 30 weeks of gestation, she should be advised that she would probably benefit from extra bed rest, but that premature delivery is likely. She should be informed to attend early if she thinks she might be in premature labour. Speculum examination, or pelvic examination to assess the cervix, is sometimes appropriate. The candidate should indicate that referral back to the specialist is necessary now (or within the next few days). There would be a place for prophylactic steroid therapy to reduce the likelihood of respiratory distress in the baby if it is delivered prior to 34 weeks of gestation but the specialist should make this decision.


110 Performance Guidelines KEY ISSUES • Knowledge of the causes of excessive uterine enlargement in pregnancy. • Diagnosis of polyhydramnios. • Determining the cause of polyhydramnios in this patient. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to consider and confirm that the problem is most likely due to polyhydramnios. • Failure to consider the possible causes of polyhydramnios and failure to arrange the appropriate investigations, or failure to refer to a specialist for these within the next few days. COMMENTARY This case tests the candidate's ability to understand and be able to diagnose the causes of a fundus being larger than dates at any specific gestation. It also is important to understand the risks associated with conditions such as polyhydramnios and to be able to counsel the patient accordingly. The complications of polyhydramnios (such as premature labour and premature rupture of the membranes) require the cooperation of the patient to enable the correct management and therefore the information given to the patient about such complications is critical. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: • Failing to enquire about the possibility of diabetes in this pregnancy. • Failing to enquire about the results of the 18-20 week ultrasound examination.


111 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 1 Tiredness and anaemia in a 55-year-old woman AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of iron deficiency anaemia and how to deal with a patient of this age with this type of anaemia. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 55-year-old housewife. You are seeing the doctor today to find out the results of a blood test which was done to investigate the cause of your recent tiredness and mild breathlessness on exertion. Opening statement: 'Well doctor, what did my blood tests show?' Questions to ask if not already covered — ask these questions if the topic has been raised but not clarified adequately: •

'What could cause this type of anaemia?'

'But I've had no bleeding from the bowel.'

'Do I lack iron in my diet?'

'Do you think I might have an ulcer?'

‘Do you think I might have cancer?'

'Could I just try the iron tablets first?'

You understand that anaemia means lack of blood. You find it hard to accept that there could be bleeding into the upper or lower digestive system without you noticing it. Become anxious if the doctor advises endoscopy. Behave as if you are somewhat averse to such tests and that you would prefer to try iron tablets first. If the candidate suggests only one test (either upper or lower gastrointestinal endoscopy), then ask if anything else should be done after that. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE •

Approach to the patient — achieve compliance about invasive investigations whilst minimising patient anxiety about the possibility of a serious cause of the anaemia.

Type of investigations required to define type of anaemia — serum ferritin serum iron, total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) and percentage saturation. The candidate should be given a report with the results of these tests, as follows: Serum Iron

4 /jmol/L


370 pmol/L (45-80)


Fe (transferrin) saturation


Serum ferritin

2 /jg/L

(15-50) (10-200)

If serum folate and B12 levels are requested, the examiner should respond that these are normal.


111 Performance Guidelines The candidate should recognise that these results clearly confirm an iron deficiency anaemia. • Investigations to determine the cause of an iron deficiency anaemia in this patient —there are several options, but only one is correct: the candidate is expected to advise both upper and lower gastrointestinal tract endoscopy (i.e. gastroscopy and colonoscopy), even if the one selected first reveals benign pathology such as a peptic ulcer or colonic polyp. Colonoscopy is usually done first. If the right side of the colon cannot be visualised, barium air-contrast enema should also be done. • Initial management plan — the essential process is to exclude carcinoma of the right side of the colon or peptic ulcer which are the most important causes of iron deficiency anaemia in this patient's age group. Other tests such as faecal occult blood or abdominal ultrasound are not required. A therapeutic trial of oral or parenteral iron instead of full investigation is wrong. Deferring investigation until the effect of iron therapy is apparent, is also wrong. Blood transfusion is not immediately indicated. Transfusion is unlikely to be needed before surgery if this is found to be necessary. Commencement of oral iron therapy e.g. Ferro-gradumet® (ferrous sulphate dried 350 mg sustained release) one daily or similar is acceptable (may need to be stopped prior to colonoscopy). Warn about side effects (constipation, colour of stools). Commencement of an H2 receptor antagonist, whilst awaiting endoscopy is also acceptable. • Patient education and counselling — explain the significance of the iron deficiency anaemia and possible causes: ~ peptic ulcer, reflux oesophagitis; ~ benign tumour of the stomach or large bowel; ~ malignant tumour of the stomach or large bowel; ~ dietary cause is unlikely (the patient is not a vegetarian); ~ adverse drug reaction e.g. nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), aspirin: and ~ candidate should know that thalassaemia minor is extremely unlikely with the blood film and iron studies obtained. KEY ISSUES • Determine type of anaemia and its cause • Interpretation of investigations to confirm presence of iron deficiency anaemia • Identification of possible causes of iron deficiency, particularly an occult colonic cancer. • Patient education and counselling, explaining problem, answering patient questions and advising further investigation.


111 Performance Guidelines


Failure to diagnose iron deficiency anaemia.

Failure to consider gastrointestinal blood loss.

• Failure to advise both upper and lower gastrointestinal tract endoscopy. COMMENTARY Patients with a mild anaemia may or may not be symptomatic depending on the rapidity of development. In this patient iron deficiency anaemia is strongly suspected by the low mean corpuscular volume (MCV) and the microcytic hypochromic blood film. The low serum ferritin and low transferrin saturation confirm the diagnosis of iron deficiency. This station requires the candidate to interpret the clinical picture of symptomatic anaemia in a middle-aged postmenopausal woman and the full blood examination and blood film presented. Circulating iron is bound to transferrin, the iron transport protein. Iron in excess of the amount needed for haemoglobin synthesis binds to a storage protein apoferritin forming ferritin. Serum ferritin levels below 10μg/L are virtually diagnostic of absent body iron stores. It is expected that the candidate will know that the blood film changes suggests iron deficiency and proceed to ask for iron studies. Once iron deficiency is confirmed, the key clinical diagnosis is that the patient almost certainly has occult gastrointestinal blood loss and therefore requires both upper and lower gastrointestinal endoscopies. It is not acceptable clinical practice in a postmenopausal woman with iron deficiency anaemia to treat the iron deficiency with iron therapy and do nothing further.


112 Performance Guidelines Condition 1 1 2 Colonoscopy findings in a 24-year-old man with chronic diarrhoea AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's knowledge of endoscopic findings in inflammatory bowel disease, the differences between ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease, and the management of a patient with inflammatory bowel disease. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will instruct the patient that he has come to see the doctor for explanation of his condition and advice on his treatment. If any part of the doctor's explanation seems unclear, ask for clarification. EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should diagnose inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel disease includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease (granulomatous colitis). Both can present with diarrhoea. Ulcerative colitis involves the large bowel -mainly ulceration of rectal and colonic mucosa (bloody diarrhoea); whereas Crohn disease is a transmural inflammation of the whole wall of the small and/or large bowel (usually causing mucous diarrhoea) and may lead to intestinal obstruction as well. 'Skip' lesions and fistulae occur in Crohn disease. Longterm inflammation is associated with the development of carcinoma of the colon in a small proportion of patients with ulcerative colitis, usually those with total colonic involvement. Malignant change is less likely in Crohn disease. Management includes the treatment of nutritional deficiencies and anaemia in severe or chronic diarrhoea. Drug therapy includes the use of sulfasalazine, prednisolone (local enemas or systemic) and immunosuppressive therapy (e.g. azathioprine or mercaptopurine). Surgery is indicated for severe, chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn colitis not responding to medical therapy. Surgical treatment for ulcerative colitis necessitates a proctocolectomy with an ileo-anal pouch procedure or ileostomy. Urgent surgery is very occasionally needed if acute toxic dilatation occurs. KEY ISSUES • The candidate should understand the differences between the pathologies of ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease, and should demonstrate an understanding of the medical therapies used and the indication for surgery. CRITICAL ERROR - none defined


112 Performance Guidelines COMMENTARY This is becoming an increasingly common scenario. Patients are often provided with photographic evidence of a procedure they have recently undergone and this becomes part of their travelling record, along with packets of X-rays, letters from medical practitioners and laboratory results. Whilst all this can be of considerable help to the doctor who is reviewing the patient, there is an expectation by the patient that the doctor will be able to interpret the data. This may not always be the case, particularly if the patient has returned to see the general practitioner before the specialist has had the opportunity to communicate with the referring doctor. In this case, the patient has photographs of a part of the colon and the area of mucosa on view shows erythema, oedema and ulceration. The patient has given a history of six months' duration, so infection as a cause of this colitis is unlikely but stool cultures and microscopy should not be omitted. Inflammatory bowel disease is a diagnosis which can only be made with certainty once the biopsy results are available. Whilst awaiting the letter from the specialist and the histopathology, it would be reasonable to explain to the patient what is meant by the term 'inflammatory bowel disease' and provide a brief overview of Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis. At this stage, the general practitioner needs to reassure the patient that in most instances both diseases can be managed quite satisfactorily with medical therapy. The exact medications will depend on which disease is present and the specialist will direct therapy. In most cases the disease will run an indolent course and be easily kept under control. The patient will be kept under regular review by both the general practitioner and the specialist. Both diseases are lifelong afflictions. If the underlying problem is Crohn disease, the small as well as the large bowel could be involved. The patient will be treated on a symptomatic basis, but must be aware that complications can occur. These include flare-up of the colitis (diarrhoea, haemorrhage, abdominal pain, and systemic illness), acute colonic dilatation, anorectal fissures, abscess and fistulae. If the patient has involvement of the small bowel, intestinal obstruction is another complication to be considered. Fistulae may form and the patient may present with a complication related to the fistula (e.g. pneumaturia). Ulcerative colitis is confined to the mucosa of the large bowel and most patients are well controlled on medical therapy. Complications may include a flare-up of the colitis, acute dilatation of the colon and malignancy. At this stage in the management process it would not be appropriate to bombard the patient with all this information and cause unnecessary concern, particularly with talk about malignancy or the place of surgery. At this stage, the patient will be seeking a name to the problem and the reassurance that the condition can be treated.


4-B: Life-threatening Emergencies — Priorities of Treatment Bryan W Yeo 'Extreme remedies are most appropriate for extreme diseases.' Hippocrates (7460-377BC)

The ability to recognise when a patient is severely ill, rather than just unwell, In severely life-threatening illness, is potentially life-saving, even if a precise diagnosis is not immediately treatment and diagnostic plans apparent. must proceed simultaneously and In severely life-threatening illness, treatment and diagnostic plans must rapidly if a successful outcome is proceed simultaneously and rapidly if a successful outcome is to be to be achieved. achieved. Emergencies requiring such early recognition include: • CARDIAC EMERGENCIES — cardiac arrest, arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, pericardial tamponade. • RESPIRATORY EMERGENCIES — respiratory arrest, airway obstruction and asphyxiation, tension pneumothorax, flail chest, sucking chest wounds. • CIRCULATORY EMERGENCIES — shock due to volume loss requires refilling of the pipes and turning off the tap. Refractory shock requiring specific management may be cardiogenic, obstructive, septic or anaphylactic. • NEUROLOGICAL EMERGENCIES — patients who are comatose, stuporous or paralysed need rapid assessment and treatment with exclusion of treatable cerebral or spinal compression. • OVERWHELMING SEPSIS — specific infections (e.g. meningococcaemia) require early diagnosis and treatment to avoid a fatal outcome. • BIRTHING EMERGENCIES — problems are compounded when two lives — mother and babe — are at stake. • EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OF SEVERE TRAUMA (EMST) — management of severe trauma is aided by effective triage leading to efficient and rapid protocols of primary (ABCDE: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, Exposure) and secondary surveys where treatment and diagnosis proceed hand in hand. • POISONING AND ENVENOMATION — urgent diagnosis and management will be required for circulatory, respiratory, neurologic and haematologic effects. Bryan W Yeo


4-B Life-threatening Emergencies — Priorities of Treatment

4-B Life-threatening Emergencies Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 113-118 113

Wheezing and A severely ill 4-month-old baby girl with fever


A lethargic febrile 2-year-old boy with a rash


breathing difficulty in a 5-year-old girl


Cuts to the wrist of a 25-year-old man


Severe postpartum haemorrhage in a 25-year-old primigravida


Emergency management of a snake-bite in a 20-year-old man



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 3 A severely ill 4-month-old baby girl with fever CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a junior Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) working in the Emergency Department. A 4-month-old female infant is brought in by her parent at 0300 hours. The baby has been increasingly unwell for 24 hours with the following history: • Poor feeds — only one breast feed in that time. • Feverish. • Decreased urine output. • Excessive drowsiness and difficult to wake for feeds. • There has been no vomiting or diarrhoea, and no cough or wheeze. The baby is the first born infant of healthy parents who are both currently well. She was delivered normally at term after an uneventful pregnancy. She has been thriving and developing normally until now. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Ask the examiner for the clinical findings you would wish to elicit on examination. • Discuss the likely causes of the infant's illness with the very anxious parent. • Explain your plan of management to the parent. No further history is required. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 113 can be found on page 610



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 4 A lethargic febrile 2-year-old boy with a rash CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS A two-year-old boy is brought by his very upset parents to a general practice in a small country town, 50 km from a regional city. The child has become lethargic and febrile in the last four hours. He has had a mild upper respiratory tract infection for the last three days. Now he has a high fever, is uninterested in food, irritable and has very cold skin. He is an only child of healthy parents. On examination, he looks unwell and has a fine nonspecific macular petechial rash on the trunk and legs as illustrated below. Elsewhere the skin is cold and pale, especially over the extremities. Vital signs: Temperature

40 "C (tympanic measurement)

Respiratory rate




Blood pressure

90/60 mmHg

Neck stiffness

None apparent


Explain the diagnostic possibilities to the parent.

Outline your management plan.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 114 can be found on page 612



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 5 Wheezing and breathing difficulty in a 5-year-old girl CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS A 5-year-old girl is brought to the Emergency Department in by her worried parent. She has been well until yesterday when she developed a cold. Last night she was coughing and woke with wheeze and breathing difficulty. She went back to sleep on and off through the night but on waking this morning still has an obvious wheeze. Her general health has previously been good, apart from an episode of mild wheezing associated with a respiratory infection when she was 3-years-old. She also has a past history of mild flexural eczema but has no known allergies. Her father had several episodes of wheezing until the age of eight but none since. He does, however, suffer from seasonal hay fever. Examination findings She appears to be in some respiratory distress and has an audible wheeze. Temperature

37.5 °C



Respiratory rate


No cyanosis Clear nasal discharge Throat

slightly reddened

Chest no deformity, percussion resonant. Generalised marked inspiratory and expiratory wheezes. No crackles. No other abnormality

YOUR TASK IS TO: • Explain the diagnosis and your plan for further management to the parent. There is no need for you to take any additional history or perform any further examination. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 115 can be found on page 614



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 6 Cuts to the wrist of a 25-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice setting. Your patient is a 25-year-old fulltime university student living at home with his parents who are both teachers, and three younger siblings. You have just seen this young man, previously unknown to you, to deal with cuts to his left wrist and hand. He told you he did not know how he sustained his injuries. You did a limited psychiatric assessment in the suture room, and established: •

He has been upset over the past three days and has barely slept, having quite atypically failed his semester exams.

He is convinced he had an infallible method of predicting the questions to be asked in the exams, only studied those questions and cannot understand how it did not work.

He denies any suicidal thoughts or impulses, and deliberate self-harm.

He told you that he had been 'doing some drugs' but no other details were able to be elicited.

He denies any past history of psychiatric illness.

His general health is good, and he is not taking any medication of any kind.

You noted he is actively hallucinating and thought-disordered and concluded he was acutely psychotic.

He does not consider himself unwell, and just wants to go home to sleep.

The practice nurse has dressed his wounds and you are now going to see him and address the psychiatric management.


Inform the patient of your evaluation of his problem and treatment recommendations.

Inform the examiner of the reasons for your proposed management and other possible options.

Explain your decision to the patient.

The Performance Guidelines for Condition 116 can be found on page 618



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 7 Severe postpartum haemorrhage in a 25-year-old primigravida CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS This 25-year-old primigravida had a normal vaginal delivery by the midwife 20 minutes ago in a country District Hospital in which you are a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO), and currently on call for the Obstetric Unit. The pregnancy had been perfectly normal. The labour was of 14 hours duration. Only one dose of analgesia had been required. The estimated blood loss at delivery was only about 250 mL. However a further 1500 mL of bright blood has been passed in the last 15 minutes. The midwife has just phoned you to advise you of these facts, and to ask you to come and help with the patient's care. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Ask the midwife the appropriate questions to define the probable cause of the haemorrhage and to assist you to define what care is now required. You should not take more than four minutes to do this task. • Advise the midwife of what she should do between now and when you will arrive in the delivery suite. You are currently at your flat which is ten minutes from the hospital. • Advise the examiner of the most probable cause of the haemorrhage, and what you will do when you arrive in the delivery suite. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 117 can be found on page 622



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 8 Emergency management of a snake bite in a 20-year-old man CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a country hospital Emergency Department. A 20-year-old-man is brought to the hospital by car after having been bitten by an unidentified snake 30 minutes ago. He was barelegged while walking near the river and did not notice the snake lying on the path concealed by shadows. He accidentally stepped on the snake which was brown in colour and about two metres in length, which slithered away after biting him once above the ankle. He was driven straight to hospital by his friend who was walking with him. He has some pain at the site, he looks anxious and worried. He is haemodynamically stable. The site of the bite is as shown in the photograph below. A few drops of venom remain on the skin nearby.


Apply a first aid dressing to the limb using the materials available.

Tell the examiner what you are doing and why. Near the end of the time period, the examiner will ask you one or two questions.



The Performance Guidelines for Condition 118 can be found on page 625


4-B Life-threatening Emergencies — Priorities of Treatment

4-B Life-threatening Emergencies Performance Guidelines MCAT 113-118 113 A severely ill 4-month-old baby girl with fever 114 A lethargic febrile 2-year-old boy with a rash 115 Wheezing and breathing difficulty in a 5-year-old girl 116 Cuts to the wrist of a 25-year-old man 117 Severe postpartum haemorrhage in a 25-year-old primigravida 118 Emergency management of a snake bite in a 20-year-old man


Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 3 A severely ill 4-month-old baby girl with fever AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose and manage acute life-threatening sepsis in infancy. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are the anxious parent of a 4-month-old infant, Emma, who has become very unwell over a short period of time. Initially you did not think that there was anything seriously wrong. You subsequently became alarmed, as the baby has become lethargic and unresponsive. You are now very distressed by your baby's appearance and frightened she might die. Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'What is wrong with Emma?'

'Could my baby die?' 'Where would she get an infection?' (Ask this if infection is suggested as the cause of the

problem) •

‘Is this because we haven't been looking after her properly?'

'What are these investigations you want to do?'

Examination findings to be given to the candidate by the examiner on request •

Drowsy, poorly responsive but well-nourished infant

The baby looks dehydrated and ill, with a blotchy cyanosis of the extremities

Temperature — 39.5 °C

Pulse rate — 160/min

Respiratory rate — 20/min

Ears and throat are slightly injected

Anterior fontanelle is soft

No other abnormality is found on full examination

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should realise that the condition is life-threatening from history and examination findings, and should explain that: •

Baby needs to be admitted to hospital immediately for investigation and treatment.

It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of the infant's illness without investigations as babies present in a different manner from adults.

Infection is highly likely and there are multiple investigations required, which include: blood cultures, full blood examination, inflammatory markers, urine microscopy and culture, chest X-ray, lumbar puncture. Explain the reasons for each investigation.



Performance Guidelines

• This is not due to something the parents have failed to do for their baby. • Inform the parents that an intravenous line will be inserted and once the investigations and specimens are taken, antibiotics will be commenced. Immediate management • Admit immediately to hospital for investigation (or transfer to major paediatric hospital if within 30 minutes transfer time). • Commence intravenous fluids and antibiotics (e.g. cefotaxime and gentamicin) or other suitable broad spectrum antibiotic cover until diagnosis confirmed. If intravenous access cannot be obtained rapidly, give intramuscular antibiotic initially. KEY ISSUES • Recognition of clinical findings indicative of acute life-threatening sepsis in infancy. • Recognition of an extremely sick infant requiring immediate diagnostic workup. • Recognition that investigation and treatment must proceed together. • Recognition that parenteral (preferably intravenous) antibiotics (broad spectrum coverage to cope with all possibilities) will be required. CRITICAL ERRORS • Failure to admit the infant to hospital. • Failure to undertake urgent investigations. • Failure to recommend immediate antibiotic treatment COMMENTARY This scenario describes a 4-month-old baby girl who presents febrile and obviously very unwell. The diagnosis is most likely to be severe bacterial sepsis with no signs suggesting the causal origin of the infection. This infant requires urgent admission to hospital for investigation and treatment. In this situation a cause of overwhelming sepsis must be sought and this will involve a full work up of investigations to determine the probable origin and spread of infection. This will include full blood examination including blood culture and inflammatory markers, chest X-ray and examination of urine, preferably by suprapubic aspiration, and cerebrospinal fluid via lumbar puncture. Infants present in a very nonspecific manner when infected: physical signs that may be present in older children, for example neck stiffness, are absent. The medical attendant therefore must seek out multiple possible infection sources. Having obtained these investigations rapidly, the safest and most appropriate action is then to treat the infant with antibiotic therapy preferably intravenously, providing a broad cover for appropriate organisms (e.g. cefotaxime and gentamicin). There is no place in this situation for observation while awaiting results as the infant may deteriorate rapidly and irretrievably. Under most circumstances one or other of the above investigations will reveal the source of infection. Young infants become ill quickly with bacterial infection and will deteriorate rapidly if not investigated and treated urgently. Appropriate treatment often gives rapid improvement.


114 Performance Guidelines Condition


A lethargic febrile 2-year-old boy with a rash AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise a paediatric emergency order appropriate treatment and explain the management empathically to an anxious parent. This scenario is of a febrile ill child with a short history who has a rash. The clinical picture strongly suggests septicaemia, probably meningococcal, though H. influenzae is a possibility. Few other diagnoses need be entertained at this stage. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: Opening statement

'He looks awful, doctor. It happened so quickly'. How to play the role You are extremely concerned about your very sick child. He is your first child, and you have had no illness in the household. The doctor has just examined your child and is explaining to you what is likely to be wrong and what management is advised. Questions to ask unless already covered: • • • • • •

'How serious is it?' ‘Is it just a nasty viral infection?' 'Could it be meningitis?' 'Does he need to go to hospital?' 'Does he need any treatment before he goes to hospital?' 'What tests does he need?'

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should: Explain the diagnosis, while arranging for urgent admission to hospital as follows: •

the child is very ill;

he urgently requires immediate treatment before he leaves here to go to hospital:

• •

he most likely has a bacterial infection which can rapidly cause marked deterioration with a very serious outcome without urgent treatment (one third of patients have a fulminating course); meningococcaemia is a definite possibility; and

immediate treatment with antibiotics is of paramount importance.

Indicate a management plan •

Take blood for culture and administer intravenous cephalosporin (preferred) or benzyl penicillin. If intravenous administration cannot rapidly be performed, give antibiotic by intramuscular route.


114 Performance Guidelines

• Arrange immediate hospitalisation in a children's unit for definitive investigation and management (telephone to Emergency Department, paediatrician or infectious disease consultant). • Explain to parent the most likely management: blood culture, lumbar puncture, urine microscopy and intensive antibiotic therapy. KEY ISSUES • Recognition of a seriously ill child, who requires urgent hospitalisation. • Suspicion of meningococcaemia. • Recognition of urgency of treating potential septicaemia. • Recognition of need for urgent immediate administration of antibiotics prior to transfer • Empathic explanation of serious disease. CRITICAL ERRORS • Not recognising the possibility of meningococcal disease. • Failure to ensure immediate administration of cephalosporin or penicillin and failure to arrange urgent hospitalisation. COMMENTARY The Dominant Cue for this scenario is the rash in a child who has the unusual combination of pallor and fever. The usual pattern of febrile illness in childhood is that of a flushed child, who feels hot, and protests when handled. The present scenario deviates significantly from the usual pattern, as the child is pale and uninterested when handled — the pattern of an unusually and severely ill child Any such child who has a rash, which may in the early stage be very nondescript, should be regarded as having septicaemia until proven otherwise. This will probably be meningococcal. Before introduction of routine infant immunisation against Haemophilus influenzae, haemophilus influenzal infection could also present in this manner. Immunisation with meningococcal vaccine is likely to lessen the frequency of this sort of presentation, but any child who presents like this, even if immunised, should be treated urgently. Pattern Recognition in this scenario prompts urgent action, which in this case is immediate treatment with intravenous or intramuscular antibiotics. These must not be withheld while the child is transferred, as that could be fatal Third generation cephalosporins are the preferred choice because of the possibility of H. influenzae, but penicillin G would be acceptable for initial treatment. While not appropriate at this stage, the close contacts of this child will require antibiotic prophylaxis once the child's treatment has been arranged. If clinical suspicion of the disease is strong, this should be commenced as soon as possible. Meningococcal disease in the early stages can be difficult to recognise and any clue to suggest that it could be present must be followed up. The appearance of a rash in a sick febrile child should alert the clinician to this possibility, no matter how atypical the rash may appear. While other organisms, especially viruses, may cause rashes in febrile children, once meningococcaemia is well established it may be impossible to contain.


115 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 5 Wheezing and breathing difficulty in a 5-year-old girl AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to make a diagnosis of asthma precipitated by infection in a child, to explain the diagnosis and its implications, prescribe appropriate treatment, and to provide the parent with appropriate guidance for a future episode. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The girl has acute asthma: supported by her past history of wheeze with a respiratory infection when 3-years-old, and of flexural eczema. The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are the concerned parent of Sarah. You have been up most of last night with her because of her coughing, breathing difficulty and wheezing. You do not know much about asthma and you are alarmed if the diagnosis is suggested for Sarah, as a neighbour's child recently had severe asthma requiring an intensive care unit admission. Opening statement

'She had a cold yesterday doctor and now she has got this nasty wheeze still. Does she need an antibiotic?' Questions to ask unless already covered: • • • • • • • • •

'What is causing these wheezing episodes?' 'What can we do about it?' 'Will she always have this problem?' 'Could you explain to me how I give these medications?' ‘I had a dreadful night with her last night!' 'What should I do if she has another episode like this?' 'Should we be buying one of those pumps?' 'How do these medications work?' If steroids are mentioned, ask 'Are there any side effects? I have heard about steroids and thought they are dangerous.'


115 Performance Guidelines EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate is expected to: • Make the diagnosis of acute asthma. • Explain the mechanism of acute asthma attacks in children. They are most commonly precipitated by viral infections causing bronchospasm. Also aggravated by cold weather, exercise, change in weather, smoke and inhaled allergens. Less commonly due to food allergens. • Ensure immediate relief of symptoms, by administering salbutamol or a similar agent via metered dose inhaler (MDI) and spacer/mask/mouthpiece or by nebuliser. • If no relief after 20-30 minutes, repeat treatment and refer to hospital. • May require inpatient treatment if not responding to treatment. • If hospitalisation required, candidate should explain the treatment Sarah will have tn hospital. Future management • Enquire if parents smoke and if so, encourage them to quit or at least smoke outdoors. • Explain home treatment with aerosol bronchodilator using a spacer as illustrated and instruct parents as to how this may be given.

CONDITION 115. FIGURE 1. Inhaler attached to spacer

• Explain probability of recurrence especially with viral upper respiratory tract infections. • Reassure her parents of the generally good prognosis. • Request review attendance within a few days. KEY ISSUES • Confident explanation of the diagnosis of asthma. • Appropriate management of this attack of acute asthma. • Candidate should outline an asthma treatment plan for the child for further attack as outlined in the action plan table. • Support and reassurance.


115 Performance Guidelines EXAMPLE OF SIMPLE ‘ASTHMA ACTION PLANS’ SYMPTOM BASED PLAN When well You will

Be free of regular night-time wheeze or cough or chest tightness

Have no regular wheeze or cough or chest tightness on waking or during the day

Be able to take part in normal physical activity without getting asthma symptoms

Need reliever medication less than 3 times a week (except if it is used before exercise)

When not well You will

Have increasing night-time wheeze or cough or chest tightness

Have symptoms regularly in the morning when you wake up

Have a need for extra doses of reliever medication

Have symptoms which interfere with exercise (You may experience one or more of these)

If symptoms get worse, this is an acute attack You will

Have one or more of the following: wheeze, cough, chest tightness or shortness of breath

Need to use your reliever medication at least once every 3 hours or more often

Danger signs requiring immediate action •

Your symptoms get worse very quickly.

Wheeze or chest tightness or shortness of breath continue after using reliever medication or return within minutes of taking reliever medication

Severe shortness of breath, inability to speak comfortably, blueness of lips Immediate action is needed: dial 000 for an ambulance and say 'severe asthma attack' IF AMBULANCE IS DELAYED GET SOMEONE TO DRIVE YOU TO THE NEAREST HOSPITAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT

CRITICAL ERROR • Failure to diagnose asthma.


115 Performance Guidelines COMMENTARY In this scenario a 5-year-old child is presented by an exhausted parent who has been struggling through the previous night with her child's acute breathing difficulty. A careful history determines that the most likely diagnosis is asthma and examination reveals that the child still has significant respiratory distress. Recognition of the anxiety created by this very worrying situation for the parent is important and reassurance should be given throughout the consultation as to treatment and a subsequent plan of action. There are several important issues that must be addressed in this scenario. Firstly, the child needs appropriate acute treatment to relieve her symptoms and this may require hospitalisation in the first instance if she does not respond to initial treatment in the practice. Secondly, the parent needs to be educated about asthma and the strong associated genetic element, as well as what the common precipitating causes are in children, for example, viral infections. Thirdly, the parent needs to be counselled on factors that may aggravate the child's asthma, for example, cigarette smoke, and an appropriate plan of action outlined for the parent in the event of the child developing a further asthma attack. The clinician must ensure that the parent is confident in this management and has had appropriate instruction in the use of bronchodilators and the equipment, for example, spacers, associated with their use. A common omission in practice is adequate instruction for parents in methods of administering medications and the care of equipment. Some practitioners are confident in instructing the parents in their use, but if not, the help of an asthma educator should be sought, if available. Most parents are able to very adequately cope with their child's asthma if they understand the pathogenesis and are confident that they know exactly what to do in the acute situation and when they should call for help. It is important to emphasise that even though they have a plan to follow, they should immediately seek help at any time irrespective of the plan if they are concerned about their child's condition.


116 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 6 Cuts to the wrist of a 25-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to identify that this patient is at high risk of further harm and needs acute psychiatric treatment. The risk is through possible deliberate self-harm, accidental harm whilst intoxicated, or violence driven by psychotic phenomena. This is a psychiatric emergency, and the patient needs to be constantly observed pending psychiatric inpatient admission or uptake by a psychiatric crisis assessment team, EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 25-year-old fulltime university student who has just seen the doctor to repair cuts to your left wrist and hand — you do not know how you sustained this injury. Opening statement

‘The nurse said I had to see you before I leave — / told you that I just have to have a sleep!' The candidate is expected to inform you that you need to have urgent psychiatric treatment, and discuss with you the possible options, including the possibility of involuntary treatment if after discussion about your condition, available supports, and intent, you do not accept voluntary treatment. Expected responses to candidate enquiries: When asked about understanding of present condition: 'There is nothing wrong with me — once I have figured out what has gone wrong with this system, I'll be able to sleep. Will you help me with an appeal about the mark? That must be where it has gone wrong! ' When involuntary treatment is discussed: ' I f you are telling me that you are going to send me

to hospital whether I like it or not, then I might as well go because I would have to anyway! Can I go home first and tell my parents?' Questions which should be asked, with appropriate responses:

'Can I go home?' The candidate should advise that it would be best to phone parents and see if they can come here or meet you at the hospital.

'What are they going to do for me there?' The candidate should advise that at the hospital, the doctors will decide on medication as the patient needs something for sleep, and will perform tests to help sort out what is going on, as well as acting on results.

Further instructions to patient You are tired, perplexed about everything that is going on, preoccupied with your own thoughts and experiencing auditory hallucinations ('hear voices') that you locate as originating in the air vent in the room and to which you intermittently mutter inaudibly. On one occasion, say to the area of the vent 'Can't you shut up and let me think?' Resist the idea that you might have any psychiatric illness, but accept the inevitable when you hear that you will be hospitalised on an involuntary basis. If candidate does not discuss that, do not accept treatment and do not ask for your parents to be contacted; and say you wish to leave.


116 Performance Guidelines EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE This patient in his current condition is certifiable/recommendable if his agreement with recommended treatment is not obtained (terminology varies from state to state for involuntary treatment, and the exam site and candidate work experience will determine the exact wording). It is acceptable for the candidate to inform the patient of this evaluation — if so it should be communicated in a nonthreatening way. The candidate is expected to communicate to the patient that he is psychiatrically/ emotionally unwell, and that his thoughts/feelings/experiences are so distressing and unpredictable that they place him at risk of further injury, that treatment is required and will help. It is acceptable to use the complaint of sleep loss as a focus of initial symptom relief in treatment. It is essential that the candidate is explicit that treatment entails either psychiatric inpatient treatment, 'hospital in the home' or crisis team management. The candidate is expected to communicate to the examiner the reasons for the treatment decision if this has not already been made clear to the patient: •

The patient probably has a major psychiatric illness.

He is at risk of self-harm.

He requires urgent treatment.

And the decisive point for involuntary certification in this case is that treatment cannot be administered in a less restrictive way. Other possible options are to: • Contact the parent for a collateral history (after patient consent). • Administer sedation with benzodiazepine or antipsychotic if negotiations fail. • Consider alternatives (e.g. shared care, community treatment order — unlikely to be secure enough). KEY ISSUES • Ability to understand and directly address the fact of serious mental illness, risk of harm, and need for treatment. • Knowledge of psychiatric crisis treatment options including involuntary treatment. • Ability to communicate and negotiate with the patient, including flexibility and inclusiveness of significant others, such as parents, without neglecting duty of care. CRITICAL ERROR • Not ensuring urgent referral for psychiatric assessment and crisis care.


116 Performance Guidelines COMMENTARY This is a management task — to implement crisis care for a young man with an acute psychosis and injury of unknown origin. The patient presents with a minor injury in the setting of acute psychosis. Such an injury may have been accidental (for example, whilst intoxicated), due to deliberate self-harm, or driven by psychotic phenomena (for example, by command hallucinations or delusions). These mechanisms carry different degrees of risk and determining the specific mechanism is important in the understanding and management of each individual case. In crisis management in a primary care or outpatient setting, however, the fact of injury and potential for further harm is the overriding principal determinant requiring further action. Presentation with consequential adverse events, such as unexplained self-injury or occupational and social problems, is common in acute psychotic illness, as is presentation with requests for relief of somatic or vegetative symptoms such as sleep disturbance. It is important for doctors in all areas, especially those working in primary or emergency care, to be aware of this phenomenon, and to have the capacity to effectively intervene with appropriate response not only to the presenting problem but also the underlying psychiatric illness, even if not fully elucidated. There is a significant risk of serious injury through self-harm if this type of presentation is ignored. There is accumulating evidence that early intervention in psychotic illness plays a vital role in diminishing chronicity and severity of outcome in a range of biopsychosocial areas. Thus, appropriate doctor response entails: •

Deciding upon the level of risk to the patient and others based on obtained information and observation.

Preparedness to act on the decision within the framework of the mental health legislation and crisis psychiatric resources in the region of the doctor's practice.

Applying knowledge of psychopharmacology and skill in chemical restraint. In this case, undertaking to ensure the patient has sleep relief whilst his condition is further assessed is important.

Using communication skills to manage a difficult-to-engage patient; in this case responding positively to the patient's requests for sleep relief and assistance with his academic problems is therapeutic, whereas aggressively pursuing the possibility of illicit drug use at this time is not.

Applying good judgement with respect to privacy/confidentiality in communicating with significant others. In this case, seeking consent to inform the parents of the crisis is important, but disclosing speculative information such as possible illicit drug use is not acceptable.

Self-harm or unexplained injury in the context of acute psychosis is a serious psychiatric emergency. The doctor in this scenario has a duty of care to this young man to ensure that he immediately receives a specialist mental health/psychiatric assessment and that he is continuously supervised until he has had that assessment. He remains the doctor's responsibility until the assessment occurs.


116 Performance Guidelines

In reality, once this young man is informed that he has a serious mental illness and that he will have to go to a hospital or another clinic to see a psychiatrist, he is likely to become anxious and frightened. He may attempt to either run away immediately or use some distracting strategy to evade his chaperone and escape. Typically he will ask to go to the toilet; to go outside for a cigarette, a coffee; to make a phone call; go to the ATM; get a magazine or newspaper; move his car He may then run off and disappear in a state of panic. The risk of further self-harm may be exaggerated once the patient becomes aware he has a serious mental illness His perplexity and denial of knowledge of his injuries and his active psychosis with grandiosity make him at extreme risk of further self-harm. The mental health crisis team or the police and ambulance need to be summoned to the doctor's general practice as soon as practicable rather than allowing him to be taken to the clinic/assessment centre/ hospital in a private car accompanied by a friend or with his parents. Too much sedation given by the doctor at the general practice in this situation will only confound or prolong the subsequent specialist assessment if the young man is rendered senseless or unable to communicate. Oral diazepam 5-10 mg and/or olanzapine 5-10 mg would be appropriate initial choices for sedation by the general practitioner. Diazepam must never be given intramuscularly.


117 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 7 Severe postpartum haemorrhage in a 25-year-old primigravida AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to diagnose and manage a patient having a serious primary postpartum haemorrhage. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the midwife as follows: You are the midwife speaking to the duty Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) on the telephone. You will need to answer questions which are asked about the patient, and ask for any recommendations for treatment until the HMO arrives in the delivery suite. The following is a list of appropriate answers — these are to be provided following specific requests by the doctor. •

Vital signs: blood pressure 85/50 mmHg, pulse rate 120/min.

The labour lasted 14 hours.

The delivery was spontaneous and vaginal.

The baby weighed 3800 g and was in good condition at delivery.

An episiotomy was not cut, and there is no tear in the perineum.

The blood is just pouring out and is bright red.

If asked ‘Is it clotting? answer ‘I don't know'.

She has had no previous uterine surgery.

No ergometrine or oxytocin (Syntocinon®) has been given, at the patient's request

The placenta weighed 800 g and looked complete and normal. It was delivered five minutes ago.

I have not passed a urethral catheter.

The uterus is central in position.

The uterus appears slightly lax and extends 2 cm above the umbilicus.

Total measured blood loss: 1500 mL so far.

Haemoglobin one week ago: 120 g/L.

Blood group: O Rh positive.

She does not have an intravenous drip running.

EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The possible causes of the haemorrhage to be considered rapidly are: •

Uterine atony.

Genital tract laceration — vagina, cervix, uterine rupture.

Retained placental fragment, cotyledon or membranes.

A coagulation disorder.

The questions asked by the doctor of the midwife should attempt to clarify which of these causes is most likely. The appropriate questions and responses are listed in the examiner instructions to the midwife.



Performance Guidelines Following the questions and responses, the candidate should give the following advice to the midwife: Because the most likely diagnosis is a haemorrhage due to uterine atony, the initial instructions for action to be taken by the midwife need to be: • Massage the fundus, • Gain intravenous access if you can.

• Give intravenous or intramuscular ergometrine (0.25 mg) or intramuscular ergometrine and oxytocin (Syntometrine®) immediately. Some candidates may suggest the use of a prostaglandin preparation given per rectum. • Start transfusion rapidly with saline, Hartmann solution, or Haemaccel®. • Take blood for cross-matching (good candidates would also request blood should be taken for coagulation studies as well). • Pass a urethral catheter to ensure the bladder is empty. • Observe any blood which is being passed to check whether it is clotting. Commentary to examiner should be along the following lines: The cause could be any of the above diagnoses, but the most likely is uterine atony because of the longish labour, the lack of administration of oxytocics and the abdominal findings. Although other causes cannot be excluded at this time the initial treatment should be the treatment of uterine atony. • As soon as I arrive, I will do the following unless the bleeding has substantially decreased. ~ Insert an intravenous drip if not completed by midwife — and commence or continue crystalloid fluids or Haemaccel® until blood is available. ~ Inspect the placenta myself to ensure it looks complete and normal. ~ Do a speculum examination to ensure there is no vaginal or cervical laceration which may require suturing. ~ Regularly monitor the vital signs to check the patient's condition. ~ Give oxygen by mask. ~ Give blood as soon as available and cross-matched. If the bleeding continues, add Syntocinon® 20-50 units/litre to the intravenous fluids being administered, and notify the obstetric consultant; as it is highly likely an examination under anaesthesia (EUA) will be required to ensure there are no retained products of conception (RPOC), the uterus is intact and there is no evidence of a partial uterine inversion. If possible the EUA should not be performed until a blood transfusion is running and she is haemodynamically stable. It would generally only be after an EUA has been performed that the use of intramyometrial prostaglandin preparations such as PGF2a, or invasive and major surgery such as internal iliac ligation (or even hysterectomy) would be considered. KEY ISSUES • Knowledge of the causes of primary postpartum haemorrhage. • Ability to recognise the most likely cause of a primary postpartum haemorrhage. • Ability to advise the midwife of the initial management required. • Ability to understand the steps required if the initial management is not successful in controlling the haemorrhage.


117 Performance Guidelines CRITICAL ERRORS • • •

Failure to define that uterine atony is likely to be present on the information obtained from the midwife. Failure to ask for information regarding the vital signs. Failure to advise the midwife to initiate the initial actions detailed. The performance of coagulation studies is not mandatory but the other actions are.

COMMENTARY Severe postpartum haemorrhage is a life-threatening condition to the mother and the immediate management of this condition must be known. The four causes of postpartum haemorrhage (genital tract trauma, retained tissue, blood clotting abnormalities, and uterine atony) must be considered in this case. The various treatments for each of these conditions must be discussed. The various drugs used to manage uterine atony must be known. Common problems likely with candidate performance are: •

Failure to consider the possibility of a cervical or vaginal laceration because the perineum was intact, and failure to indicate a speculum examination of the vagina is necessary.

Failure to consider the possibility that some retained products of conception may still be in the uterus and that examination under anaesthesia would be required if the bleeding continued, even if the placenta appears to be complete when inspected.


118 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 8 Emergency management of a snake bite in a 20-year-old man AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to apply the pressure-immobilisation technique of first aid to a victim of a snake bite from an unidentified snake; and to test recognition of symptoms of envenomation and its treatment. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: He was bitten on the anKle half an hour ago by an unidentified snake. No symptoms of envenomation are present at this stage, but he is concerned and anxious. The patient is lying on a couch wearing shorts. The bite marks are visible and a few drops of venom are on the skin. The candidate is expected to employ first aid by applying a pressure-immobilisation crepe bandage to the limb, and to immobilise the limb by appropriate splintage. No specific local wound toilet or treatment is indicated. Knowledgeable candidates will recognise the presence of venom on the skin and collect some for identification with the Venom Detection Kit which is available in most hospitals. Any suggestion to apply suction or to incise or excise the wound is incorrect and would be marked down accordingly. The appropriate technique is to use a wide crepe bandage from the equipment provided, applying it firmly to the whole limb from toes to above knee, applying the bandage with the degree of pressure appropriate for a sprained ankle, then applying a splint and attaching the bandaged leg to the splint immobilising both the foot and knee. The availability of oxygen therapy and appropriate resuscitative equipment should be checked by the candidate. Use of a venous tourniquet above the bandage is not obligatory but would be appropriate. The use of an arterial tourniquet is incorrect and inappropriate. After the candidate has completed the dressing, the examiner will ask; •

'What symptoms and signs of envenomation would you look for in further followup?'

'How would you treat the patient if envenomation is diagnosed or suspected?'

Indications for antivenom administration are the presence of symptoms and signs of envenomation developing over a period of observation in hospital with facilities for oxygen administration and for ventilatory and circulatory support available. Initial symptoms are often headache, nausea and vomiting, which may be accompanied by circulatory collapse, clouding or loss of consciousness, muscle paralysis and coagulation disturbance. Initial signs of muscle weakness often include diplopia, local muscle paralysis and breathing difficulty progressing to apnoea due to the effect of neurotoxins. Some venoms have additional haematologic effects causing a coagulopathy with local and systemic bleeding with thrombocytopenia. Several cause systemic toxicity as well, with progression to renal, respiratory and multiorgan failure.


118 Performance Guidelines Local tissue necrosis at the site of the snake bite is not a feature of Australian snake venoms — as distinct from the effects of venoms from exotic species such as the American rattlesnake. Identification of the snake can be aided using Venom Detection Kits (VDK) with swabbing of any residual venom from the skin surface around the bite. So in first aid, venom should not be wiped or washed from the skin nor should antiseptic be applied until checking for residual venom has been done at the hospital. Venom present on the skin will NOT be absorbed and is NOT a continuing risk — envenomation is due to absorption of venom injected subcutaneously by the fangs at the time of the bite. Choice of antivenom. It is preferable to use a specific antivenom if the snake or its venom can be positively identified. If the snake cannot be identified, the normal procedure is to give polyvalent antivenom (except in Victoria or Tasmania, where use of combined specific venoms for tiger snake and for brown snake is recommended). Expeditious use of antivenom can be life saving. Antivenom is always administered intravenously. Most antivenoms are prepared from horse serum. Each ampoule is prepared to contain enough antivenom to neutralise the average output from a bite of the particular snake, but with severe envenomation multiple ampoules, up to 10 or more, may be required. Because of the risk of allergic reaction to the antivenom, it is recommended that prior to commencing antivenom administration, subcutaneous adrenaline (0.25 mg in adults and 0.01 mg per kg in children) should be given; and the infusion of antivenom (diluted 1 in 10 in Hartmann solution) commenced five minutes after adrenaline has been given. Loaded syringes with further adrenaline solution (1 mg per mL), antihistamine, and steroid should also be on hand, as should oxygen and full resuscitation facilities. After observation for reactions to the first dose (which are rare), two or more antivenom ampoules should be infused intravenously. Prednisolone (50 mg orally) is also recommended daily for five days if antivenom is used, to minimise risk of delayed serum sickness. Steroids are stopped after five days, tapering the dose is not required. KEY ISSUES •

Ability to apply an appropriate first aid dressing.

Knowledge of features of envenomation and appropriate principles of management of envenomation. The antivenom ampoules contain instructions as above, so that detailed knowledge of dosage and specific protocols are not required.

CRITICAL ERROR • Inability to apply an appropriate first aid dressing. COMMENTARY Australian venomous snakes are among the most dangerous in the world in terms of venom toxicity and output — particularly the taipan and the small scaled (fierce) snake; but other venomous species are widely distributed and include tiger snake, common brown snake, copperhead, death adder, mulga, and red-bellied black snake.


118 Performance Guidelines



Tiger snake

Country grave of snakebite victim

Fatal attacks in humans are fortunately now rare, and effective pressure immobilisation dressings and antivenoms have saved many lives. Antivenoms require refrigerated storage and have a shelf life of around three years. Polyvalent antivenom contains venom from five snakes and requires therefore the largest volume of antivenom to be used. Snake Venom Detector Kits (VDK) can help identify the need for specific antivenom.


Venom detector kit




Legal, Ethical and Organisational (LEO) Kerry J Breen 'Only one rule in Medical Ethics need concern you — that action on your part which best conserves the interest of your patient' Martin H Fischer (1879-1962)

5-A: Legal, Ethical and Organisational Aspects: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas As emphasised in the introduction to this book, effective and compassionate practice of medicine requires a combination of medical knowledge, clinical competence and professional attitudes and skills. In the past, the last of this combination was called a 'good bedside manner' and was not formally taught. It seemed to be assumed that young doctors would somehow acquire such skills, perhaps by observation and experience. In Australia, for at least the last twenty years, the medical profession, especially those responsible for the education and training of new doctors, have identified professional skills as something which can and must be taught. Professional skills or 'professionalism' covers a wide range of elements, including communication skills, knowledge of medical ethics, personal and professional development, awareness of relevant laws pertaining to medical practice and cultural awareness in our multicultural society. Above all 'professionalism' includes an assumption that a person wishing to practise medicine effectively will bring to the task positive attitudes to all the roles involved in being a doctor. These new approaches to medical education and medical practice have been driven both by the profession and by society. A landmark document which reflected the wish of the profession to be responsive to our changing society was the 'Doherty report'1 which recommended sweeping changes to the medical student curriculum. The Australian community has gradually changed its attitude to the traditional emphasis the medical profession had placed on beneficence (which was increasingly seen to represent authoritarianism or paternalism). Through better knowledge and understanding of science and medicine and an increasing desire for the information necessary for health care decisions, the community has asserted the rights of patients to the ethical principle of autonomy. These altered attitudes have also been reflected in decisions made by Australian courts in regard to such matters as the adequacy of information to which 2,3 patients are entitled when giving consent to treatments which carry risks . In the space of less than 1 Australian Medical Education and Workforce into the 21st Century. Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Medical Education and Medical Workforce. Canberra, 1988 2 Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479 3 General guidelines for medical practitioners on providing information to patients NHMRC Canberra. 1993


5-A Legal, Ethical and Organisational Aspects: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas

one generation, the key ethical pillars for medical practice of beneficence and nonmaleficence have been overshadowed by the principle of patient autonomy bringing the expectation that doctors will show respect for patients, share information willingly and ensure the adequacy of consent to tests, treatment and procedures. These changes have not been easily or readily adapted to by all members of the medical profession. Putting some of them into practice can require considerable wisdom and skill, especially where the balance of those ethical principles may need to be modified to adjust to the wishes of older Australians who may still want their doctor to make decisions for them, or to adjust to the needs of newly arrived citizens with different expectations. For doctors who themselves are newly arrived in Australia, especially if they have come from countries where more traditional approaches to the authority of the medical profession have been maintained, adjustment may also be difficult. Adjusting to a different approach to professionalism will be compounded should the health care system, and the disease and illness patterns, be vastly different in Australia from those of the doctor's country of origin. The Australian Medical Council is aware of the challenges which face doctors who obtained their initial training in other countries. The Council has striven to see that education and training are available in the relevant areas of medical professionalism. It has altered its examinations to incorporate key elements of these aspects of medical practice. This section provides examples of how this has been done. However, it is very important to note that the separation of this section, on professional skills and knowledge of law, ethics and the organisation and structure of the health care system, from the sections on consulting skills, communication skills and clinical skills is artificial. To be able to practise medicine in Australia effectively, these professional skills all need to be applied in daily practice. The ethical principle of respect for the autonomy of patients brings the need for doctors to examine the personal and professional values (including religious values) they might bring to a consultation and consciously avoiding imposing their own values in problematic clinical situations. This is not just an issue for doctors new to Australia. Our multicultural society provides similar challenges for doctors who have trained in Australia. There is no single definition of what the term 'ethics' means in health care. One widely accepted view is that it represents the way in which a society determines how it will live after considering carefully all the issues. Thus some people say that ethical decisions are 'all-things-considered' decisions. The dominant ethical principles applying to the practice of medicine in Australia at present reflect a combination of historical influences dating back to the time of Hippocrates as well as the Judeo-Christian thinking which the first Europeans brought with them a little over two hundred years ago. The values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have not yet been fully recognised by non-indigenous Australians although guidelines developed recently for the purpose of considering health research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples provide considerable relevant insights into the values and ethical views of these Australians 1 . Views on ethics may change over time and are context, time and culture specific. A society's jointly held view on ethical issues will also influence personal values and views of ethical matters, especially during a person's formative years. Laws are specific, ethics are conceptual. For doctors in Australia, several ethical codes of 2 practice exist. The most widely known code is that of the Australian Medical Association ,

1 Values and Ethics. Guidelines for ethical conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. NHMRC. Canberra, 2003. 2 Australian Medical Association Code of Ethics 2003,


5-A Legal, Ethical and Organisational Aspects: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas but ethical codes also exist tor the various medical colleges. In addition, medical registration boards, which are state-based, provide guidance to doctors over a range of professional matters including standards of practice and legislation relevant to medical practice. Medical boards are not responsible for setting the high standards to which doctors should aspire, but exist to protect the community from doctors whose performance is alleged to have fallen below minimally acceptable standards. Another way of expressing the expectations placed upon doctors (especially those who are registered to practise medicine without supervision in Australia) to have sufficient knowledge and awareness of the professional skills required, is to list some practical examples of ethical, legal and professional dilemmas doctors might face in everyday practice. It must be pointed out that no practising doctor in Australia is expected to have immediately available the information to handle all of these dilemmas. However, doctors are expected to be able to recognise the issues involved and be willing and motivated to turn to relevant sources of advice and help. The following are examples of some common matters relating to ethics, law and the organisation of medicine. These are also issues which frequently result in complaints against doctors being lodged with medical boards and health complaints commissions. Medical certificates: Writing a medical certificate is a serious task as the certificate will be used by employers, insurance companies and even the courts to determine a person's entitlement to financial or other benefits. A doctor should never write anything on a certificate to which the doctor could not attest to under oath in a court of law. Consent from minors: The definition of a minor is a legal matter, but in medical practice it is possible for older children to give consent to treatment and minor procedures. Ill and impaired doctors: Doctors may become ill and their capacity to practise impaired. In addition, doctors are at risk of misuse and dependence on drugs of addiction also leading to impairment. Doctors must be aware of the relevant state or territory laws relating to reporting possible impairment or drug misuse. Sexual misconduct: It is a serious ethical breach, often leading to deregistration. to use one's role as a doctor to establish an improper or sexual relationship with a patient. Notifiable diseases: There are a range of diseases, mostly infectious, which by law must be notified to health authorities. Much of this responsibility is taken on by pathology laboratories but individual doctors are still ultimately responsible. When can confidentiality be breached? There are very few situations in which it is legally or ethically permissible to breach patient confidentiality, and all doctors are expected to have a working understanding of this matter. Who is responsible for the professional conduct of your practice staff? In a medical practice, ultimate medical and legal responsibility rests with the doctor. Thus doctors must take steps to ensure that staff are trained in matters including those relating to privacy and confidentiality, security of records and prescription pads, prompt passing on of messages and the limits to the use of their personal judgement. Drugs of addiction: There are important laws that doctors must be familiar with covering the secure storage, prescribing and use of drugs of addiction. Medicare fraud: Most general medical practice in Australia is funded by payments to patients from an Australian Government statutory body, Medicare Australia. Systems are in place to detect irregular patterns of patient and doctor access to benefits paid by Medicare. To avoid unintended abuses of this system, doctors must make themselves familiar with the regulations involved.


5-A Legal, Ethical and Organisational Aspects: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas

Communication failure: Most complaints about doctors as well as much litigation for negligence have as their basis a failure of communication between doctor and patient. Medical student and postgraduate training programmes in Australia now place great emphasis on the acquiring of good communication skills. Courses are also offered via the medical colleges and medical indemnity organisations. A brief advice document on good communication between doctors and 6 their patients is available. Collegial support: In Australia, now and in the past, medical students and trainee medical graduates are continuously relating to older more experienced doctors in what is partly an apprenticeship' system. As a result, there is a highly developed sense that doctors are all part of a profession that works together to support each member. This support extends to the ready availability of free advice from senior colleagues when a doctor becomes aware of an ethical, professional or legal dilemma. New doctors to Australia should not hesitate to seek advice from colleagues. There is also a strong awareness on behalf of patients of their right to change doctors or to seek a second opinion. The willingness of doctors to admit fallibility and to seek such help is highly respected by Australian patients. Kerry J Breen

6 Communicating with patients. Advice for medical practitioners. NHMRC, Canberra. 2004.


5-A Legal, Ethical and Organisational Aspects: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas

5-A Ethical and Legal Dilemmas Candidate Information and Tasks MCAT 119-124 119 A man requesting disclosure of his wife's medical condition 120 Obtaining consent for leg amputation in a 35-year-old man after a motor vehicle injury 121 Several bone fractures in a 9-week-old baby 122 A parent requesting sterilisation of her intellectually disabled daughter 123 Blood transfusion consent for a 33-year-old pregnant woman with a severe APH at 7 months gestation 124 End-of-life request from a terminally ill patient



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 1 1 9 A man requesting disclosure of his wife's medical condition CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a doctor working in a general practice. Your next patient, Bill, aged 67 years has been attending the practice for some time. Bill presents to you today for his annual check up. You have completed your examination when Bill tells you he is concerned about his wife's medical condition and wants to ask you about how you found her when she saw you a few days ago. Background You last saw Bill's wife, Ann, aged 65, three days ago. You have been looking after her for many years. Ann came to see you concerned that Bill keeps telling her that she is becoming forgetful and vague. You took a history and performed a mental state examination and a general physical examination, with no significant abnormal findings. Ann told you at that time that she was worried that Bill is telling her sons and daughter that he will need to put her in a hostel or nursing home, though she feels that she and Bill are managing well at home without any assistance YOUR TASK IS TO: • Respond to Bill's questions and requests about his wife's condition. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 119 can be found on page 641



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 120 Obtaining consent for leg amputation in a 30-year-old man after a motor vehicle injury CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working as a doctor in an Emergency Department of a large teaching hospital. A 30-year-old man, Brian, has just been brought in by ambulance following a motor vehicle accident. He is conscious and has not sustained any head injuries. You have examined him, he has been assessed by your registrar and the orthopaedic registrar has also seen him. His sole injury has been to his left leg, which was crushed under the dashboard. He has a very severe open crush injury to his left leg, and immediate surgery has been recommended. He is stable at the moment and has been given pain relief. You have been told by the registrar that below knee amputation of the leg is likely to be required as they may not be able to save the distal limb. You have been asked to obtain a valid consent. The illustration below, taken in the Emergency Department, shows the state of the leg. He has no significant past medical or surgical history. He has been fit and in good health. He works as a labourer and is training for selection in the state rowing team.


Obtain a valid consent from the patient for the surgery planned.

After six minutes, answer questions from the examiner.

You are NOT required to examine the patient, or take any additional history from him.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 120 can be found on page 644



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 121 Several bone fractures in a 9-week-old baby CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are a Hospital Medical Officer (HMO) in a hospital Emergency Department. A 30-year-old mother presents with her nine-week old baby boy Gregory. The mother says that the baby has a tender lump in his right thigh and is not kicking his right leg. He cries when his nappy is changed. She recalls that he rolled off the change table the previous day. Your examination findings of Gregory are: •

Normal percentiles.


Anterior fontanelle pressure normal.

Tender swelling in the middle of the right thigh, most likely involving the femur.

Some fingerprint bruising on the left upper limb.

Old bruises on chest wall posteriorly.

You arranged X-rays of his leg and chest. The X-rays show a fresh spiral fracture of the right femur and three posterior rib fractures approximately three weeks old.


Explain the X-ray results to the mother and take any further history you require from her.

Explain the further management of this problem to her.


The Performance Guidelines for Condition 121 can be found on page 647


122 Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 122 A parent requesting sterilisation of her intellectually disabled daughter CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Mrs Davis is a widow and has been a patient of yours for approximately twelve years. She has a 14-year-old daughter Evelyn, who has a significant intellectual disability. Evelyn has also been a patient under your care since the family moved to the suburb 12 years ago. Evelyn also suffers from epilepsy, has an ataxic gait and significant behavioural problems. While able to dress and feed herself Evelyn requires significant assistance with washing and is not capable of any form of independent living. Mrs Davis, now 54 years old, is concerned that Evelyn's behavioural problems will be exacerbated with the onset of menstruation. Mrs Davis is also extremely anxious as to her own ability to care for Evelyn during her menstrual cycle and has the clear view that Evelyn would be intellectually incapable of understanding the physiological changes to her body in addition to being physically incapable of meeting her own hygiene needs. As Evelyn has been cared for solely by her mother, and requires high levels of supportive care, Mrs Davis has decided that she will approach you to organise for Evelyn to undergo a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. Today Mrs Davis has made an appointment to talk to you about this operative procedure for Evelyn. YOUR TASK IS TO: • Respond to the mother's questions and provide information to her about the consent required prior to the operative procedures she is seeking for her daughter. The Performance Guidelines for Condition 122 can be found on page 649



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 123 Blood transfusion consent for a 33-year-old pregnant woman with a severe APH at 7 months gestation CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS A 33-year-old woman, Miriam, has just come to see you in the Emergency Department of a major urban hospital with a severe antepartum haemorrhage. She is seven months (30 weeks) pregnant, and prior to this time, has been fit and well. This is her second pregnancy — her first baby is alive and well. On examination, she is conscious and able to speak. Her appearance is pale and sweaty, she is tachycardic and her blood pressure is 80/45 mmHg. The haemorrhage is continuing. An emergency ultrasound suggests a central placenta praevia. You start to take appropriate measures, including insertion of an intravenous cannula, and taking blood for grouping and cross matching. You have begun transfusion with Hartmann balanced electrolyte solution. You explain to her that she will need an emergency blood transfusion as part of her treatment, and that this will start as soon as possible while preparations are made for an emergency Caesarean section. She says that she is a Jehovah's Witness and will not accept a blood transfusion. Her husband is also a Jehovah's Witness. He is overseas at the moment and cannot be contacted. YOUR TASKS ARE TO: •

Ascertain fully the patient's views about her treatment by blood transfusion.

Explain the risks and benefits of the suggested treatment for both Miriam and her baby.

After six minutes, answer the examiner's questions. The Performance

Guidelines for Condition 123 can be found on page 652



Candidate Information and Tasks

Condition 124 End-of-life request from a terminally ill patient CANDIDATE INFORMATION AND TASKS You are working in a general practice. Sally, aged 65 years, has been your patient for approximately ten years. One year ago Sally was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Since that time you have continued to be involved in her treatment and have maintained a close doctor-patient relationship with her and her family. Despite active medical intervention, Sally is now at the end stage of her disease and has chosen to withdraw from further treatment and remain at home to die. You have organised the oncology and community nurses to visit daily. Sally has intravenous therapy, an indwelling catheter and a nasogastric tube in situ. You are maintaining regular contact with Sally, her husband, and their two adult children. Soon after the initial diagnosis Sally approached you to ask if you would assist her to bring an end to her life. However, at the time you were evasive and attempted to counsel her in taking a positive approach to her treatment and condition. Today you are making a house call to Sally to assess her general condition and revise her medication regime

YOUR TASKS ARE TO: • Respond to Sally's questions. • After six minutes, answer questions from the examiner The Performance Guidelines for Condition 124 can be found on page 655


Legal, Ethical and Organisational Aspects: Ethical and Legal Dilemmas

5-A Ethical and Legal Dilemmas Performance Guidelines MCAT 119-124 119

A man requesting disclosure of his wife's medical condition


Obtaining consent for leg amputation in a 35-year-old man after a motor vehicle injury


Several bone fractures in a 9-week-old baby


A parent requesting sterilisation of her intellectually disabled daughter


Blood transfusion consent for a 33-year-old pregnant woman with a severe APH at 7 months gestation


End-of-life request from a terminally ill patient


119 Performance Guidelines

Condition 1 1 9 A man requesting disclosure of his wife's medical condition AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise patient rights to confidentiality and to reconcile these rights with the concerns of the patient's spouse about her capacities and competence. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are Bill aged 67 years and have been a patient of this general practice for many years. You think that your 65-year-old wife, Ann, who is also a patient of this practice, is getting confused. You have been nagging her to get a check up and she came to see the doctor (the candidate) earlier this week. You are worried about the future and think you should list her for a nursing home placement. Ann considers herself neither forgetful nor confused and will not discuss with you what happened at her appointment with the doctor. Background (disclose to candidate on direct questioning): • You have been married for a long time. • Your relationship with Ann is stable but there have been times of conflict throughout your marriage. • You are finding that it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk to her and have found that lately you have been very irritated with each other. • All of your children are adults and none lives at home. • You live in your own home and do not have any financial problems. Start the interview by saying:

‘Doctor, I'm really worried about Ann. She's been behaving differently lately She's been very forgetful and seems confused. She came to see you this week. What did you think other?' If the doctor says he cannot tell you what they discussed or his findings, or suggests that you ask Ann for any information about the consultation ask:

'Why not? I'm her husband, surely I should know? or 'She won't tell me anything' If the candidate still does not provide the information, say:

'Why not? We live together. I'm worried she could leave something on and cause a fire. What if she forgets something when she's looking after the grandchildren' In response to specific questions from the doctor: • Ann has not had any falls, been lost, forgotten where she was or what she was doing. • While the grandchildren have been with you no incidents have occurred, but add but

something could happen'.


119 Performance Guidelines In the event of alternative responses from the doctor: The candidate should not divulge the nature of the consultation with Ann. However, if the candidate does and says that nothing abnormal was found, then ask:

'The children and I have discussed it and I'm sure they think we should list her for a nursing home placement. We need a referral from you to get her assessed. Can you write one please?' If the candidate does not agree to write a referral, ask:

'Well if we can't get it from you, where can I get one from?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE This scenario illustrates the ethical problems of maintenance of patient confidentiality in the face of the husband's concerns. The candidate should demonstrate recognition of the rights of the patient (Ann) to have her medical information kept confidential. The candidate should also provide some explanation as to the basis upon which there is a conflict in that both Ann and Bill are patients of the practice. Both are thus patients of the candidate and disclosure and discussions of their individual conditions cannot be given to the other without mutual consent, such as by a joint attendance for a medical consultation without coercion. The candidate should be able to identify both the legal and ethical position in terms of accessing information in circumstances where the husband has serious concerns about the wife's competency/capacity. KEY ISSUES •

Ability to maintain patient confidentiality.

Ability to counsel the husband where there is a conflict of interest.

CRITICAL ERROR • Disclosing information about Ann without her consent. COMMENTARY What is confidentiality? The duty of confidentiality requires that doctors keep confidential all information they are given by patients and/or which they discover or learn about patients through their professional interactions. Very occasionally, and clearly not applicable to this instance, confidentiality must be breached by mandated reporting — for example, in cases of child abuse. Patients can normally expect that: • •

all information patients disclose to the doctor will not be passed on to a third party without the express consent of the patient; and the doctor will take reasonable steps to protect patients' information.


119 Performance Guidelines Why is confidentiality important? • Confidentiality offers benefits for individual patients, both in terms of their likely usage of health services and the quality of care they may receive. For example, lack of assurance about confidentiality may prevent people from seeking health care (young women with contraceptive needs, people with potentially stigmatising illnesses such as HIV). This can limit medical care, if doctors receive only partial accounts of patients' histories. • Confidentiality maintains trust in the doctor-patient relationship. Trust is a foundation value, necessary for full and effective communication, sharing information between patient and doctor and seeking appropriate health care. • Maintaining confidentiality maintains community trust in health care, without which the whole system would be in jeopardy. • Confidentiality expresses respect for patients' autonomy. Respecting patient autonomy acknowledges that patients have aspects of their lives that they should be able to keep confidential if they choose. • Confidentiality is part of the inherent obligation of becoming a medical practitioner. When a person becomes a doctor, the community expects to be promised that patient information will remain confidential. In this situation, maintaining Ann's confidentiality requires good communication skills to explain to Bill why Ann's medical issues cannot be discussed with him without her consent. This requires explaining the concept of confidentiality in terms that Bill can understand, and being able to defuse matters and respond appropriately if Bill becomes angry.


120 Performance Guidelines

Condition 120 Obtaining consent for leg amputation in a 30-year-old man after a motor vehicle injury EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are a 30-year-old labourer, Brian, who has been fit and well. You are training for selection in the state rowing team. You have just been involved in a motor vehicle accident and have a major crush injury to your left leg. Surgery has been recommended and the candidate has been asked to obtain your consent for surgery. The registrar has told the candidate that your leg may have to be amputated. You have been given pain relief and are not experiencing pain at the moment. You can't feel the leg at the moment. The candidate will not be examining you at all. You are lying on a hospital couch with your leg covered by a sheet and dressing. Opening statement 'What's going to happen?' When the candidate says that surgery has been recommended, ask ‘Is t h a t r e a l l y n e c e s s a r y ? ' When the candidate explains the seriousness of the injury and the possibility of amputation, ask for clarification of any terms you don't understand (including 'amputation') and then say ' Y o u c a n ' t d o t h a t ! ' B e emphatic that you don't want to lose your leg. Say ' I t d o e s n ' t h u r t that m u c h — i t c a n ' t b e t h a t b a d ' . Ask; I ' m n o t g o i n g t o l e t y o u c u t o f f m y l e g , s o w h a t a r e y o u g o i n g t o d o ? ' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should: • Give adequate information in broad terms about the injury and about the required surgery, the preparation for surgery and the likely outcomes, including what is likely to happen if Brian refuses amputation at this time. This must include any risks which wouldn't be obvious to the patient. The doctor's explanation should cover the following points: ~ All possible means will be considered during the surgery to try to save the leg. ~ The main indications for amputation are irreparable damage to the limb and its tissues from crushing, tearing or other injuries, and this is the concern with Brian's leg — that the local damage may be too great to salvage. ~ Broken bones, or severed blood vessels or nerves or tendons, can be sewn together and repaired and this will be done if possible in a bid to save the limb. Even if a leg has been wholly amputated in the accident, it can sometimes be replaced by skilled teams such as this hospital has, members of which will be involved in Brian's surgical care — but this is only possible if the amputated tissues can be restored to useful life and function by restoring full blood flow. If the tissues are already crushed and dead they cannot be brought back to life, and this is the concern with Brian's leg.


120 Performance Guidelines ~ A below the knee amputation, (which is what is likely to be required) can give, in combination with a modern prosthesis, a very effective and near fully-functioning limb. He might have heard of examples like fighter pilots losing legs and returning fully to flying duties. There are many other examples among prominent sportsmen and women, such as the Young Australian of the Year amputee who became an outstanding para-olympian medallist, ~ If irretrievably dead and dying tissue is not removed by amputation, the end result is not just a useless lower limb. There are very serious risks to your health and life. -

The dead tissues can release toxins and other waste products into the circulation which can seriously affect the heart and cause sudden cardiac arrest.


The dead tissues will inevitably become infected, which can be overwhelming and spread from dead tissue through the blood and to other body systems, called 'gas gangrene', which is a major cause of death in these injuries unless dead tissue is promptly removed.

~ If he still cannot face up to the fact that amputation may be required, and will not consent to this possibility, the surgeon will respect his wishes, but this would be Brian's decision, although made against the recommendations of his treating medical and surgical team. He is making this decision having been forewarned of the possible risks and sequelae. ~ After explanation along these lines, the candidate should repeat the request, 'Once again Brian, I ask you if you will give consent for amputation to be done as a last resort and only if all else fails to save your leg?'

• Clear explanation of the possibility of amputation and request for consent should be made as detailed above, • Ensure the patient is an adult of sound mind. • Consider that the narcotic may potentially interfere with his capacity to give a valid consent. • Identify that doctors can only carry out procedures that they have obtained consent to undertake, in a patient such as this who is conscious and competent to make decisions. • Identify that if he refuses the procedure the surgeon (or surgical team) cannot override that refusal. • Consent cannot be obtained through misrepresentation, threat or duress. After six minutes the examiner will ask the following questions: • 'You now need to phone your registrar, what are you going to tell him about this consent?' • 'Do you think there is anything about the condition of this patient that causes you concern in relation to his competency to give a valid consent?' (Consider effect of narcotic, patient's understanding of the procedure and the terminology used, given he has had no previous exposure to the health care system). KEY ISSUES • Ability to understand the elements necessary to obtain a valid consent (legal and ethical). CRITICAL ERROR • Threatening that the surgical team will override the patient's objections and proceed to amputation if deemed surgically necessary.


120 Performance Guidelines COMMENTARY Ethical foundations of consent: Informed consent is a mechanism for people to control what happens to them, forming an important part of the ethical obligation of respect for patient autonomy. The main aim of informed consent is to ensure that people are acting freely, without coercion or deception. Informed consent is the process through which people can authorise what happens to them or who touches them, making medical treatments morally acceptable. The law strongly upholds this moral position: before you can examine, treat or care for a competent adult person, you must obtain a legally valid consent. Without consent, touching a patient, taking blood, or doing an operation is potential battery, even if the action is intended to help rather than harm the patient. The conditions for a valid consent try to ensure that any decision the patient has made is autonomous by posing three questions: • • •

‘Is this person competent to make the decision?' 'Does the person understand the necessary information?' ‘Is the person making the decision freely? '

Competence has to do with the ability of a person to make decisions that reflect their values and their concern for their own well being. Competence is determined by a person's age and intellectual or mental capacity to make a legally binding decision. When assessing competence it is important to make sure that the person understands the nature, purpose and effects of the proposed treatment. In this case, use of jargon, presence of narcotic analgesia and shock may all potentially affect Brian's competence. A second part of competence relates to the patient's ability to comprehend and retain relevant information. Assessing this would require the doctor to ask Brian to explain back to the doctor what the likely consequences are if Brian does or does not agree to amputation. A final part of competence is assessing whether the patient believes the information and has weighed it in the balance with other considerations when making the final choice. Again, this requires careful discussion with Brian, and a serious attempt on the part of the doctor to understand why Brian is refusing treatment. Allowing Brian to see the degree of damage suffered by the limb may help his understanding; but ultimately if Brian remains adamant, then the surgeon would proceed to wound debridement as necessary, short of amputation, and monitor progress carefully in the postoperative period. The issue of understanding in relation to obtaining a legally valid consent is where patients require information about the consequences of the proposed treatment, and any alternative courses of action. The legal standard in relation to information to be communicated to patients is determined by the relevant case law and legislation in each of the states and territories. From a legal point of view, a doctor who does not give the patient enough information is potentially liable in actions in negligence or trespass to the person. Making decisions free of coercion requires the doctor to explain the alternatives and their consequences in plain English, tailoring further responses to any questions that the patient may ask, and avoiding potentially threatening behaviours such as implying that the patient is making a stupid decision or that the patient 'deserves' any adverse consequences from not following medical advice.


121 Performance Guidelines

Condition 121 Several bone fractures in a 9-week-old baby AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to recognise and manage nonaccidental injury (NAI) in an infant. This is a diagnostic and management scenario and will require the candidate to elicit further history concerning possible abuse and also the current state of the mother. The second part of the scenario involves how the candidate copes with this difficult clinical situation, and whether the candidate is aware of the doctor's responsibilities under common law. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are a 30-year-old woman whose first child, Gregory is 9 weeks old. Your husband is a junior partner in a large city law firm and works long hours. Your pregnancy was uncomfortable with the delivery needing forceps. Gregory has never fed well and establishing lactation has been difficult. You have moved away from family and friends because of your husband's position, and have left your own successful job because of this. Gregory cries a lot and you have been very depressed, angry and bewildered by your situation. You become very upset and teary when he cries. You are fearful that you may have injured him when you became angry with him yesterday while changing his nappy and rationalise that he rolled off his change table. Initially you attempt to cover up the background but when confronted with the X-ray results, you become very anxious, agitated and distressed, break down and cry saying that 'no one realises

how difficult it has been and how awful I feel'. Questions you may ask or statements you may make: • ‘I feel so alone and nobody helps me. Can anyone please help me?' • 'Will they take my baby away from me?' • 'Nobody knows how difficult it has been and how awful I feel' (this can be repeated over and over), EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should: • Inform the mother that there is a fracture of the thigh and also old fractures of the ribs. • Show concern about how the various injuries might have occurred. • Enquire about the pregnancy, birth, puerperium and the mother's family and social situation. • Organise urgent admission of the baby to hospital as a place of safety immediately for investigation as to the cause of the fractures. • Inform mother of the need to notify the relevant child welfare department in the State or Territory as required by law. • Be supportive to her and indicate understanding of how difficult she must have found it trying to cope with her baby and her problems. Do not be judgmental or threatening.


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• Stress that during the admission several people will be working with her to help her through her feelings of depression and inadequacy. There is no plan to remove her baby from her but rather to help and support her throughout the difficult period she is having. Her needs as well as those of her infant will be addressed. • Her spouse will also be interviewed to arrange counselling for him as well. • Stress that these measures are designed to prevent a similar episode from occurring again. • Explain that a variety of services will be available to help now and in the future. At time of discharge, supporting people will have been in contact with her to arrange ongoing help for her. KEY ISSUES •

Empathic attitude to a distressed mother who is asking for help.

Recognition that suspected child abuse (NAI) is required to be notified by law in most Australian states or territories.

Arranging for the child to be in a place of safety (hospital) for treatment, and arranging help for the mother. CRITICAL ERRORS •

Failure to diagnose nonaccidental injury.

• Failure to advise necessity of hospital admission. COMMENTARY Nonaccidental injury to children is not rare in the Australian community and presents in many ways. It affects all socioeconomic groups and may range from relatively minor injuries, through to major trauma and even death or severe neurological damage. The medical attendant must be alert to the possibility of NAI in any presentation where the explanation for the injury does not tally with the injury sustained or where there are unexpected or unexplained minor injuries (e.g. bruises). A thorough and careful history must be taken and accurately recorded. With possible physical (and sexual) child abuse, the law in all Australian states requires the medical practitioner to report the suspected abuse to the relevant government department who will investigate the situation and arrange appropriate followup. In large teaching hospitals a specific Child Abuse team may be involved. The child must be placed in a place of safety. In the case of infants with fractures, this usually means hospital, while help is being arranged for the family. Often further investigations may be required to determine the extent of injuries and may include skeletal survey and blood investigations. This commonly reveals that abuse has been occurring over a period of weeks or even months. The medical practitioner's role also involves continuing support for the family while the process of investigation is proceeding and after discharge from the place of safety. This situation may often be difficult and may be associated with considerable anger, frustration, accusation and distress, all of which need to be addressed.


Condition 122 A parent requesting sterilisation of her intellectually disabled daughter AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to appropriately counsel a parent requesting the sterilisation of her intellectually disabled daughter. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the parent as follows: You are the 54-year-old mother of a 14-year-old girl named Evelyn. Evelyn has a significant intellectual disability an ataxic gait and suffers from epilepsy. In addition, Evelyn has progressively demonstrated significant behavioural problems that have included episodes of uncontrollable violent outbursts. Since the death of your husband 12 years ago you have been the sole carer of Evelyn. You have no family support and while you have a number of friends they are not able to assist you to any significant extent with Evelyn's care. While Evelyn is able to feed and dress herself she is not capable of washing herself, being left alone, or independently caring for herself. You are increasingly concerned that Evelyn's behavioural problems are becoming more frequent and of greater intensity. You have formed the view that these episodes will be exacerbated with the onset of menstruation. Indeed you have serious concerns that Evelyn is neither intellectually capable of understanding the physiological changes that will occur to her body nor physically capable of undertaking her hygiene needs. You have, on a number of occasions attempted to talk with Evelyn about menstruation and sexuality but she did not understand what you were attempting to discuss with her. You have made the decision that Evelyn requires an operative procedure that will result in her not commencing menstruation. You have discussed the issue with a family friend and decided that Evelyn should undergo a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. You believe that the ovaries need to be removed to prevent her having premenstrual tension symptoms. Today you have made an appointment with the general practitioner to organise the admission of Evelyn into a hospital so that she can have the procedure performed. Start the interview by saying:

'Doctor, as you know Evelyn is reaching the age where she will commence menstruation. She won't be able to look after herself and I really think that the change in her hormones will make it too difficult for me to care for her. I am already finding her care difficult. I have attempted to talk to her about her periods and about pregnancy but she doesn't have a clue what I am saying to her. I have spoken with a friend and I think the best thing to do is to have her sterilised. I want you to arrange for her to be admitted to a private hospital so that she can have a hysterectomy and her ovaries removed. What do I have to do?


122 Performance Guidelines The candidate may express inability to arrange such a procedure. If so say:

'Why can't you? You have been treating Evelyn for 12 years at this practice. You know that she can't look after herself. You know that she is never going to be able to look after a baby! Why can't she just be sterilised and then I can manage her as I have been doing all these years. If she starts to have her periods I'm sure that she will become more aggressive and I won't be able to manage her'. If the candidate still maintains inability to assist in organising the procedure, ask: 'Why can't you have her admitted for the surgery? When Evelyn needed her appendix out you admitted her to hospital'. Questions to ask unless already covered:

'Why can't you have her admitted to the hospital and organise the surgery?' 'Why can't I consent to Evelyn having the operation? I am her carer and the only family she has.' • 'Why can’t she be sterilised?' • 'Why can't you, as her doctor, consent to her having the surgery?' • 'Well how do I get consent to have the procedure performed on Evelyn?' • •


recognise that Evelyn herself lacks the capacity to give a valid consent to undergo sterilisation.

identify that such consent for the treatment of Evelyn must come from an adult who is of sound mind and therefore deemed through the legislation or the case law (in the relevant jurisdictions) to have the authority to give a valid consent.

expressly recognise that Mrs Davis, the mother, does not have the legal authority to give consent to the sterilisation of Evelyn.

appreciate that sterilisation (except where it is an incidental result of surgery performed to cure a disease or correct a malfunction) is outside the scope of a parent's legal authority to validly consent to medical treatment of the child.

acknowledge that Evelyn, though she has an intellectual disability, has the legal and ethical right to be treated medically as would any other patient. That is, a procedure would not be carried out unless it was medically indicated as being in the 'best interests' of the patient.

The candidate must articulate that in circumstances where a young person, with an intellectual disability, is incapable of giving a valid consent, a procedure such as sterilisation cannot be carried out lawfully without the authority of the Family Court, or similar legal body such as a Guardianship Board. KEY ISSUES The ability to: •

recognise that medical procedures like sterilisation, are different in nature from those procedures for which a parent has the legal authority to consent on behalf of their child.

identify that parents do not have the legal authority to consent to sterilisation of their child.


122 Performance Guidelines

• identify that the doctor does not have the legal authority to consent to sterilisation of the child. • recognise the need for a valid consent before the procedure can be undertaken. • recognise that only the Australian Family Court or in some states the Guardianship Board has the jurisdiction to authorise the carrying out of the procedure in the particular circumstances. • articulate the 'harm' that potentially flows from the sterilisation of a minor and the recognition of the issues associated with discrimination in relation to individuals with disabilities. CRITICAL ERRORS • To agree Evelyn's parent can give a legally valid consent for Evelyn to undergo such surgery. • To agree that the candidate, as the treating medical practitioner, can give a legally valid consent to the procedure. • To fail to recognise that even though Evelyn has an intellectual disability, a valid consent is necessary. COMMENTARY The case raises the legal and ethical issues surrounding consent. As a general proposition the parents of a child have the legal authority to consent to treatment on behalf of their minor children provided they do so in 'the best interests' of the child (Family Law Act [Commonwealth]). However there are limitations to this authority. In the Australian case of Re Marion the parents of a 14-year-old intellectually disabled child applied to the Family Law Court for an order permitting a hysterectomy and oophorectomy to be carried out on their child or a declaration that they could lawfully consent to the surgical procedure. The issue before the court was whether the parents of the child had the legal authority to consent to their child's sterilisation? The majority decision of the High Court of Australia determined that the procedure required the authority of the court, expressly stating that the performance of a sterilisation procedure was a 'special case' that took the decision outside what would be considered as the ordinary scope of a parent's authority to consent. The ethical considerations include recognition of the principle of autonomy and the fact that in circumstances where patient capacity is compromised, patients may not be able to participate in decisions about their health care as autonomous decision-makers. The degree to which they are able to make autonomous decisions will be determined by both their level of incapacity (in terms of their ability to understand) and the degree of complexity or invasiveness of the procedure. The ethical principle of 'harm' and the right of all patients to the protection of their body integrity is pivotal to the facts presented in the scenario. Patients, regardless of their level of intellect, are entitled to medical treatment that is based upon sound and knowledgeable clinical practice. All patients are entitled to be treated equally and not be discriminated against based on factors such as their level of disability.


123 Performance Guidelines

Condition 123 Blood transfusion consent for a 33-year-old pregnant woman with a severe APH at 7 months gestation A I M S OF STATION

To assess the candidate's ability to counsel appropriately a patient refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are Miriam, a 33-year-old Jehovah's Witness. You are seven months pregnant and having a life-threatening haemorrhage. You believe the baby is still alive, but do not know whether it will survive. Opening statement ‘I do not want a blood transfusion as I am a Jehovah's Witness.' The candidate should counsel you that a blood transfusion is necessary in order to avert a very high likelihood of dying from blood loss for both you and your baby. DO NOT agree to this at any point during the interview. Remain determined to refuse the transfusion. Questions to ask unless already covered: •

'Can t you save me and the baby without a blood transfusion?'

'Can t you deliver the baby now without transfusing me?'

After six minutes, the examiner should ask the candidate: •

'Summarise the legal and ethical issues in this situation.'

'What will you do — how would you manage this situation?'


The candidate should understand the ethical issues of autonomy and the patient's right as an adult of sound mind to self-determine her treatment. However a patient's right to be autonomous is restricted by the potential to damage a third person. If candidates are not able to counsel the mother in relation to the potential damage to the infant and are unable to obtain consent for transfusion they could seek an emergency order from the Court to commence the transfusion, although they are most unlikely to receive permission to do so. In Australia, the fetus has no 'rights' justifying treatment being forced on the mother against her wishes, as until the baby is born it is most unlikely any Court would force any treatment on the mother to improve the chances of fetal survival. Once the baby is born, the possibility of transfusing the baby changes completely.


123 Performance Guidelines

The Human Tissue Act (1982) in Victoria allows children to be transfused without parental consent providing that without a transfusion the child was likely to die, and providing two medical practitioners concurred in that opinion before the administration of the blood transfusion. Similar Acts in other states allow the same. For other treatments an application can be made to a court to have the delivered baby made a 'Ward of Court' and subsequently treated as necessary, but this requirement does not exist for blood transfusion itself. The candidate therefore needs to cover the following: • Urgent delivery by Caesarean section is required as the best measure to save the mother's life (and baby). The baby would not die of blood loss but of hypoxia (lack of oxygen delivery carried by red cells) due to maternal shock. • Blood transfusion is clearly advisable in a shocked patient with continuing blood loss, to improve the mother's and baby's change of survival, and would normally be given before and during the operation. • Transfusion of products not derived from blood are not nearly as useful as they do not carry oxygen, although various synthetic blood substitutes (Haemaccel®, Macrodex®, etc.) can improve the blood volume and reduce the apparent shock; but clearly hypoxia becomes the limiting factor with continuous blood loss of 40% blood volume or more. • If blood transfusion is absolutely refused the chance of maternal death is markedly increased, although the fetus may survive if the operation is done immediately. • The mother has the right to refuse a blood transfusion. There is a case in Australia where the husband, who was also a Jehovah's Witness, ultimately gave permission for a blood transfusion to be given to his wife, because she had lapsed into unconsciousness and was unable to give consent or continue to refuse blood transfusion at the time. A court recently upheld the appropriateness of the husband's right to make the decision and for the hospital staff to then transfuse the woman. This would not be possible in this case, as the husband is not contactable, so the previous wishes of the woman would have to be accepted and followed. KEY ISSUES • Ability to deal with strong religious views in a respectful manner. • Ability to recognise the priorities in this emergency situation and respond appropriately • Recognising that urgent Caesarean section is required as the bleeding is continuing and causing persisting shock and urgent operation is the only way of controlling persisting bleeding, despite the risks which an operation would entail. CRITICAL ERRORS • Not finding out Miriam's definitive wishes about treatment. • Indicating they would transfuse Miriam without obtaining a valid consent (either from Miriam or from her husband if Miriam was no longer conscious and capable of providing any opinion, for example after Miriam had lost consciousness).


123 Performance Guidelines

COMMENTARY This case raises the issues of a legally valid consent. Obtaining a valid consent is a process for ensuring that patients can have control over what happens to them. One important part of this is ensuring that patients are competent and have sufficient information so that they can understand the implications of their decisions. Another important part of informed consent is that patients have the right to make their medical decisions free from undue controlling influences, manipulation or coercion. These can be hard to define, as many decisions that patients make are influenced by their circumstances, or the wishes or feelings of their relatives. For example, elderly patients may refuse elective surgery because they are the principal carer for their frail partner and do not wish to relinquish this role, however briefly. In this situation, where Miriam is faced with a ife-or-death choice with well known religious implications, it is very important that she should be offered the opportunity to discuss her decision about treatment in privacy. From an ethical perspective, Miriam's right to be an autonomous decision-maker is not actually restricted by any impact her decision will have on her baby, although it would be restricted if the decision was one involving blood transfusion to her baby following delivery if this was necessary to preserve life. Australian law does not protect the unborn child from apparently inappropriate maternal decisions regarding care, and practitioners in Australia need to be aware of this.


124 Performance Guidelines

Condition 124 End-of-life request from a terminally ill patient AIMS OF STATION To assess the candidate's ability to understand and communicate the legal and ethical issues that arise where there is an end-of-life request from a terminally ill patient. EXAMINER INSTRUCTIONS The examiner will have instructed the patient as follows: You are Sally and you have terminal pancreatic cancer. You have been suffering from this disease for approximately one year. You have had several periods of hospitalisation and have been treated aggressively for the last twelve months. During your last period of hospitalisation you were given the alternatives of continuing with the treatment, which may extend your life for a further six months or stopping the treatment and being discharged home. You have chosen to stop the treatment and spend your remaining time at home with your family. You have an indwelling catheter, nasogastric tube and a cannula for intravenous therapy in situ. You are at home with your husband and two adult children who are caring for you. You have been very pleased with the care you have received from your general practitioner (who has been your doctor for the past ten years). Now that you are at home the general practitioner has assumed the responsibility for coordinating your medical care. To that end, you are seen daily by the oncology and community nurses who carry out your daily health care. Your general practitioner has arrived to assess your condition and review your medications. Opening statement

'Doctor, we all know I am dying. I have thought about this very seriously for months. I know you're giving me something for the pain but I want you to prescribe something I can use to end my life'. If the candidate expresses inability to do that, say: ‘I told you right from the start I would not be able to endure this. I have thought it all through very carefully I have had enough of this. I don't want to live any longer. I am never going to get better. I want you to give me something to bring all this to an end'. If the candidate still expresses inability to assist in bringing about your death, say:

‘I'm an increasing burden on everyone. My husband and children are exhausted from caring for me. They are upset all the time and we all know that I am going to die. We might as well just get it over with. I don't want them to remember me as a burden on them. The thought of them having to look after me all day and all night is making my last days too upsetting for all of us'. If the candidate continues to decline to assist, say:

'Well, why can't you? You're supposed to be my doctor and I am not going to recover. I am scared of the pain. What are you going to do? You have to do something for me'.


124 Performance Guidelines

Alternative responses The candidate may ask the patient, Sally, about her level of pain and whether the medication currently prescribed is relieving her pain. If this question is asked, Sally should respond: 'The

pain is increasing and I am constantly nauseated. My throat is very sore and I can't swallow without a lot of difficulty.' AFTER six minutes, the examiner should ask the candidate:

'What are the ethical dilemmas and legal consequences of assisting a patient to bring about her own death?' 'What alternatives can you offer her?' EXPECTATIONS OF CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE The candidate should: •

expressly acknowledge the patient's request and clarify what it is the patient is asking the doctor to do.

recognise that the patient is asking the doctor to assist her to bring about her own death. The candidate should decline to do so.

be able to identify that the request is for an additional medication intended to bring about her death and not based on prescribing for pain relief.

provide an explanation which shows an understanding of the law in relation to murder and manslaughter where the request from the patient involves bringing about her own death.

demonstrate an understanding of the ethical principles underpinning 'good' and 'harm' in a clinical context.

be capable of identifying the potential for ethical dilemmas in circumstances where a patient exercises the right to be an autonomous decision-maker in relation to the health care decisions which run counter to the law.

address the ethical concepts of 'good' and 'harm'.

identify options for palliative care and pain relief (for example, community and palliative care nursing services, adequate pain relief regimens, respite care).


Ability to confirm that medical assistance is not given for the sole purpose of bringing about the death of a patient.

articulate the legal position in relation to murder/manslaughter where euthanasia is an issue.

identify the conflict between the patient's right to be autonomous in making her own health care decisions and the ethical obligations of beneficence (doing good) and non-maleficence (not to cause harm).


124 Performance Guidelines

CRITICAL ERRORS • Agreeing to provide Sally with the drugs she is requesting for the sole purpose of ending her life. • Failure to address, in a constructive manner, the issue of pain relief. That is, the candidate must provide information as to how the patient's pain relief will be managed in a manner responsive to her needs as her condition deteriorates. COMMENTARY CONDITION 124. TABLE 1. Voluntary death and medical aid in dying: Ethical and legal perspectives*

Classification Suicide

Example Self-killing by means such as hanging, drug overdose or carbon monoxide poisoning. No involvement of others. Provision of means for patient to kill themselves, such as a prescription for self-poisoning, or insertion of an intravenous line for a patient to inject lethal drugs. Requires involvement of doctor. Refusal of antibiotics in advanced malignant disease, or advance directive refusing resuscitation. No direct involvement of others.

Moral justifications • Right of individuals to self-determination: • may be prudent or courageous Physician-Assisted • Right of individuals to Suicide self-determination: • assisting patient to achieve self-determination; • compassion for suffering of individual Passive Euthanasia I: • Right of individuals to Refusal of treatment by self-determination; competent person • duty of doctors to respect wishes of competent patient Passive Euthanasia II: Turning off ventilator in person with • Avoidance of burdensome Withdrawing or massive stroke, or withholding or futile treatment; withholding life-sustaining nutrition from a severely brain• relief of suffering; • best interests of patient to treatment from damaged patient. cease treatment; incompetent patient May require involvement of others. • fair use of medical resources

Legal status Illegal: Criminal Law

Illegal: Criminal Law

Legal: Consent and refusal of treatment

Legal: Consent and refusal of treatment


124 Performance Guidelines


Voluntary death and medical aid in dying: Ethical and legal perspectives* (continued) Classification Active voluntary euthanasia

Example Moral justifications Legal status Illegal: Doctor administering lethal dose of • Right of individuals to Criminal Law self-determination: drug with aim of causing • assisting patient to achieve immediate death, at patient's self-determination; request • compassion for suffering

Active nonvoluntary euthanasia (person usually incompetent)

Doctor administering lethal dose of • Avoidance of burdensome drug in absence of any request, for or futile treatment; relief of suffering; example actively killing severely • • best interests of patient to disabled neonate. cease treatment; • fair use of medical resources Doctrine of Double Effect Doctor administering drugs with • Compassion for suffering; aim of relieving suffering, knowing • death foreseen but unintended that side effect may be to hasten death

Illegal: Criminal Law

Legal: Criminal Law (May vary between states)

The moral conflicts can clearly be quite complex. Not only are there the autonomous wishes of a competent patient to consider, the doctor may also feel that it is in Sally's best interests to relieve her suffering, even if this includes ending her life. Obviously candidates must comply with the law, but some acknowledgement and discussion of the moral tensions may display awareness of these issues. As stated, the candidate should constructively address legal avenues for relief of suffering, including adequate analgesia and possible use of antidepressants. In the context of discussing analgesia, some familiarity of the 'Doctrine of Double Effect' may be expected. The Doctrine of Double Effect is an argument to justify medical actions which, while intending to relieve suffering, may also hasten death. •

The act itself must be morally permissible.

The ill effect, while foreseen, must be unintended.

The ill effect must not be disproportionate to the good effect.

The ill effect is not the means by which the good effect is achieved.

The classic example is that of administering morphine to a terminally ill person, with the aim of relieving suffering but in the knowledge that the accompanying respiratory depression will hasten death. This fulfils all of the criteria of the doctrine: ~ The administration of morphine for pain relief is a morally permissible action.

* Adapted from Rogers WA and Braunack-Mayer AJ, Practical Ethics for General Practice. Oxford University Press, 2004.


1 Performance Guidelines

~ The morphine is intended to relieve pain rather than cause respiratory depression. ~ The good of relieving pain outweighs the loss of life in a patient who is already dying. ~ The good effect, of relieving pain, is achieved by the action of the morphine rather than by the person dying The doctrine rules out active euthanasia, as in euthanasia the act (administering a lethal substance) is impermissible, death is an intended rather than an unintended consequence, and the good effect (relief of suffering) is achieved by means of the ill effect (killing the patient). Both the medical profession and the law appear comfortable with the Doctrine of Double Effect.



MCAT Trial Examinations MCAT Trial Examinations — Two Papers PREPARATORY INSTRUCTIONS Roger J Pepperell ‘I had scarcely passed my twelfth birthday when I entered the inhospitable regions of examinations, through which for the next seven years I was destined to journey These examinations were a great trial to me.' Winston S Churchill (1874-1965) My Early Life, Collins (1930)

Test 1-16


(Numbers T1, T2, T3, T4, T5, T6, T7, T8, T9, T10, T11, T12, T13, T14, T15, T16)

Retest 1-8


(Numbers R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, R8)



Trial Examinations — Two Papers

MCAT TRIAL EXAMINATIONS — PREPARATORY INSTRUCTIONS In sitting for the clinical examination of the Australian Medical Council, a number of basic principles should be born in mind. These are: •

The tasks are indicated to you at the entrance to the station. These must be read CAREFULLY to ensure you are aware of exactly what you have to do, so that you are able to plan and use the eight minutes of your contact time with the patient and examiner appropriately, and ensure you cover all of the tasks listed.

If one of your tasks is to take a focused history, this is exactly what you should do. This means that a full, detailed history is not expected, but that you should concentrate on the matters which are relevant to your tasks. In many stations, you are advised of the approximate time you should spend taking this history, before you proceed to the remaining tasks.

The real patients or the role-playing standardised patients have been advised in advance of how they should perform in the consultation, the questions they are likely to be asked, the replies expected to those questions, and the questions they should ask for clarification of a point. Appropriate questions have been designed to determine the clinical ability of the candidate in the task areas defined.

If one of your tasks is to perform a focused examination, again this is what you should do. An examination of the cardiovascular system, for example, would clearly include assessment of the pulse rate, blood pressure, jugular venous pulse, heart, and lungs. It would also include examination of the hands, fingers, and ankles. You should preferably describe your findings to the examiner as the examination proceeds, or summarise these at the end of the examination, but beware of running out of time in the latter case.

If you are advised to ask the examiner for the relevant and focused clinical findings you would look for on physical examination to aid diagnosis, you need to indicate precisely what aspects of physical examination you wish to do, what positive or negative findings you wish to look for, and ask the examiner specifically for these.