Which ultrasound transducer type is best for diagnosing pneumothorax?

Crit Ultrasound J. 2018 Oct 22;10(1):27. doi: 10.1186/s13089-018-0109-0.


Background: An accurate physical examination is essential in the care of critically ill and injured patients. However, to diagnose or exclude a pneumothorax, chest auscultation is unreliable compared to lung ultrasonography. In the dynamic prehospital environment, it is desirable to have the best possible ultrasound transducer readily available. The objective is to assess the difference between a linear-array, curved-array, and phased-array ultrasound transducer in the assessment for pneumothorax and to determine which is best.

Methods: In this double-blinded, cross-sectional, observational study, 15 observers, experienced in lung ultrasonography, each assessed 66 blinded ultrasound video clips of either normal ventilation or pneumothorax that were recorded with three types of ultrasound transducers. The clips were recorded in 11 adult patients that underwent thoracoscopic lung surgery immediately before and after the surgeon opened the thorax. The diagnostic accuracy of the three transducers, elapsed time until a diagnosis was made, and the perceived image quality was recorded.

Results: In total, 15 observers assessed 990 ultrasound video clips. The overall sensitivity and specificity were 98.2% and 97.2%, relatively. No significant difference was found in the diagnostic performance between transducers. A diagnosis was made slightly faster in the linear-array transducer clips, compared to the phased-array transducer (p = .031). For the linear-, curved-, and phased-array transducer, the image quality was rated at a median (interquartile range [IQR]) of 4 (IQR 3-4), 3 (IQR 2-4), and 2 (IQR 1-2), relatively. Between the transducers, the difference in image quality was significant (p < .0001).

Conclusions: There was no difference in diagnostic performance of the three transducers. Based on image quality, the linear-array transducer might be preferred for (prehospital) lung ultrasonography for the diagnosis of pneumothorax.

Keywords: Emergency medical services; Pneumothorax; Transducer; Ultrasonography.