Point-of-care Ultrasonography for Detecting the Etiology of Unexplained Acute Respiratory and Chest Complaints in the Emergency Department: A Prospective Analysis

Cureus. 2018 Aug 28;10(8):e3218. doi: 10.7759/cureus.3218.


Introduction Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is increasingly used as a diagnostic tool in emergency departments. As the number and type of POCUS protocols expand, there is a need to validate their efficacy in comparison with current diagnostic standards. This study compares POCUS to chest radiography in patients with undifferentiated respiratory or chest complaints. Methods A prospective convenience sample of 59 adult patients were enrolled from those presenting with unexplained acute respiratory or chest complaints (and having orders for chest radiography) to a single emergency department in an academic tertiary-care hospital. After a brief educational session, a medical student, blinded to chest radiograph results, performed and interpreted images from the modified Rapid Assessment of Dyspnea in Ultrasound (RADiUS) protocol. The images were reviewed by a blinded ultrasound fellowship-trained emergency physician and compared to chest radiography upon chart review. The primary "gold standard" endpoint diagnosis was the diagnosis at discharge. A secondary analysis was performed using the chest computed tomography (CT) diagnosis as the endpoint diagnosis in the subset of patients with chest CTs. Results When using diagnosis at discharge as the endpoint diagnosis, the modified RADiUS protocol had a higher sensitivity (79% vs. 67%) and lower specificity (71% vs. 83%) than chest radiography. When using chest CT diagnosis as the endpoint diagnosis (in the subset of patients with chest CTs), the modified RADiUS protocol had a higher sensitivity (76% vs. 65%) and lower specificity (71% vs. 100%) than chest radiography. The medical student performed and interpreted the 59 POCUS scans with 92% accuracy. Conclusion The sensitivity and specificity of POCUS using the modified RADiUS protocol was not significantly different than chest radiography. In addition, a medical student was able to perform the protocol and interpret scans with a high level of accuracy. POCUS has potential value for diagnosing the etiology of undifferentiated acute respiratory and chest complaints in adult patients presenting to the emergency department, but larger clinical validation studies are required.

Keywords: bedside ultrasound; chest ct; chest pain; chest radiography; dyspnea; emergency department; point-of-care ultrasound; radius; rapid assessment of dyspnea in ultrasound; ultrasound.

Grant support

This research was supported by a medical student grant from the MedScholars Program at Stanford University School of Medicine.