Objective: The traditional physical examination of the heart is relatively inaccurate. There is little information regarding whether cardiac hand-carried ultrasound performed by noncardiologists adds to the accuracy of physical examinations. The purpose of this study was to determine whether hand-carried ultrasound can add to the accuracy of hospitalists' cardiac physical examinations.
Methods: During a focused training program in hand-carried echocardiography, 10 hospitalists performed cardiac examinations of 354 general medical inpatients first by physical examination and then by hand-carried ultrasound. Eligible inpatients included those for whom a conventional hospital echocardiogram was ordered. We measured how frequently the hospitalists' cardiac examination with or without hand-carried ultrasound matched or came within 1 scale level of an expert cardiologist's interpretation of the hospital echocardiogram.
Results: Adding hand-carried ultrasound to the physical examination improved hospitalists' assessment of left ventricular function, cardiomegaly, and pericardial effusion. For left ventricular function, using hand-carried ultrasound increased the percentage of exact matches with the expert cardiologist's assessment from 46% to 59% (P=.005) and improved the percentage of within 1-level matches from 67% to 88% (P=.0001). The addition of hand-carried ultrasound failed to improve the assessments of aortic stenosis, aortic regurgitation, and mitral regurgitation.
Conclusion: Adding hand-carried ultrasound to physical examination increases the accuracy of hospitalists' assessment of left ventricular dysfunction, cardiomegaly, and pericardial effusion, and fails to improve assessment of valvular heart disease. The clinical benefit achieved by improved immediacy of this information has not been determined. An important limitation is that the study assessed only 1 level of training in hand-carried ultrasound.