Test Characteristics of Point-of-care Ultrasound for the Diagnosis of Retinal Detachment in the Emergency Department

Acad Emerg Med. 2019 Jan;26(1):16-22. doi: 10.1111/acem.13454. Epub 2018 Dec 17.


Background: Previous studies of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) have reported high sensitivities and specificities for retinal detachment (RD). Our primary objective was to assess the test characteristics of POCUS performed by a large heterogeneous group of emergency physicians (EPs) for the diagnosis of RD.

Methods: This was a prospective diagnostic test assessment of POCUS performed by EPs with varying ultrasound experience on a convenience sample of emergency department (ED) patients presenting with flashes or floaters in one or both eyes. After standard ED assessment, EPs performed an ocular POCUS scan targeted to detect the presence or absence of RD. After completing their ED visit, all patients were assessed by a retina specialist who was blinded to the results of the POCUS scan. We calculated sensitivity and specificity with associated exact binomial confidence intervals (CIs) using the retina specialist's final diagnosis as the reference standard.

Results: A total of 30 EPs enrolled 115 patients, with median age of 60 years and 64% female. The retina specialist diagnosed RD in 16 (14%) cases. The sensitivity and specificity of POCUS for detecting RD were 75% (95% CI = 48%-93%) and 94% (95% CI = 87%-98%), respectively. The positive likelihood ratio was 12.4 (95% CI = 5.4-28.3), and negative likelihood ratio was 0.27 (95% CI = 0.11-0.62).

Conclusions: A large heterogeneous group of EPs can perform POCUS with high specificity but only intermediate sensitivity for RD. A negative POCUS scan in the ED performed by a heterogeneous group of providers after a 1-hour POCUS didactic is not sufficiently sensitive to rule out RD in a patient with new-onset flashes or floaters.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Point-of-Care Systems*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retinal Detachment / diagnostic imaging*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography*