Comparison of Ultrasound Guidance vs. Clinical Assessment Alone for Management of Pediatric Skin and Soft Tissue Infections

J Emerg Med. 2018 Nov;55(5):693-701. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2018.07.010. Epub 2018 Aug 28.


Background: Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) can potentially help distinguish cellulitis from abscess, which can appear very similar on physical examination but necessitate different treatment approaches.

Objective: To compare POCUS guidance vs. clinical assessment alone on the management of pediatric skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI) in the emergency department (ED) setting.

Methods: Children ages 6 months to 18 years presenting to participating EDs with SSTIs ≥ 1 cm were eligible. All treatment decisions, including use of POCUS, were at the discretion of the treating clinicians. Patients were divided into those managed with POCUS guidance (POCUS group) and those managed using clinical assessment alone (non-POCUS group). Primary outcome was clinical treatment failure at 7-10 days (unscheduled ED return visit or admission, procedural intervention, change in antibiotics therapy). Secondary outcomes were ED length of stay, discharge rate, use of alternative imaging, and need for procedural sedation. POCUS utility and impact on management decisions were also assessed by treating clinicians.

Results: In total, 321 subjects (327 lesions) were analyzed, of which 299 (93%) had completed follow-up. There was no significant difference between the POCUS and non-POCUS groups in any of the primary or secondary outcomes. Management plan was changed in the POCUS group in 22.9% of cases (13.8% from medical to surgical, 9.1% from surgical to medical). Clinicians reported increased benefit of POCUS in cases of higher clinical uncertainty.

Conclusions: Use of POCUS was not associated with decreased ED treatment failure rate or process outcomes in pediatric SSTI patients. However, POCUS changed the management plan in approximately one in four cases.

Keywords: emergency; pediatrics; skin and soft tissue infections; ultrasonography.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Physical Examination
  • Point-of-Care Systems
  • Prospective Studies
  • Soft Tissue Infections / diagnostic imaging*
  • Soft Tissue Infections / therapy*
  • Ultrasonography / methods*