Background: In 2011, the role of Point of Care Ultrasound (POCUS) was defined as one of the top five research priorities in physician-provided prehospital critical care and future research topics were proposed; the feasibility of prehospital POCUS, changes in patient management induced by POCUS and education of providers. This systematic review aimed to assess these three topics by including studies examining all kinds of prehospital patients undergoing all kinds of prehospital POCUS examinations and studies examining any kind of POCUS education in prehospital critical care providers.
Methods and results: By a systematic literature search in MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane databases, we identified and screened titles and abstracts of 3264 studies published from 2012 to 2017. Of these, 65 studies were read in full-text for assessment of eligibility and 27 studies were ultimately included and assessed for quality by SIGN-50 checklists. No studies compared patient outcome with and without prehospital POCUS. Four studies of acceptable quality demonstrated feasibility and changes in patient management in trauma. Two studies of acceptable quality demonstrated feasibility and changes in patient management in breathing difficulties. Four studies of acceptable quality demonstrated feasibility, outcome prediction and changes in patient management in cardiac arrest, but also that POCUS may prolong pauses in compressions. Two studies of acceptable quality demonstrated that short (few hours) teaching sessions are sufficient for obtaining simple interpretation skills, but not image acquisition skills. Three studies of acceptable quality demonstrated that longer one- or two-day courses including hands-on training are sufficient for learning simple, but not advanced, image acquisition skills. Three studies of acceptable quality demonstrated that systematic educational programs including supervised examinations are sufficient for learning advanced image acquisition skills in healthy volunteers, but that more than 50 clinical examinations are required for expertise in a clinical setting.
Conclusion: Prehospital POCUS is feasible and changes patient management in trauma, breathing difficulties and cardiac arrest, but it is unknown if this improves outcome. Expertise in POCUS requires extensive training by a combination of theory, hands-on training and a substantial amount of clinical examinations - a large part of these needs to be supervised.
Keywords: Cardiac arrest; Critical care; Dyspnea; Education; Point of care; Prehospital; Systematic review; Trauma; Ultrasound.