Tele-Ultrasound in Resource-Limited Settings: A Systematic Review

Front Public Health. 2019 Sep 4;7:244. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00244. eCollection 2019.


Background: Telemedicine, or healthcare delivery from a distance, has evolved over the past 50 years and helped alter health care delivery to patients around the globe. Its integration into numerous domains has permitted high quality care that transcends obstacles of geographic distance, lack of access to health care providers, and cost. Ultrasound is an effective diagnostic tool and its application within telemedicine ("tele-ultrasound") has advanced substantially in recent years, particularly in high-income settings. However, the utility of tele-ultrasound in resource-limited settings is less firmly established. Objective: To determine whether remote tele-ultrasound is a feasible, accurate, and care-altering imaging tool in resource-limited settings. Data Sources: PubMed, MEDLINE, and Embase. Study Eligibility Criteria: Twelve original articles met the following eligibility criteria: full manuscript available, written in English, including a direct patient-care intervention, performed in a resource-limited setting, images sent to a remote expert reader for interpretation and feedback, contained objective data on the impact of tele-ultrasound. Study Appraisal and Synthesis Methods: Abstracts were independently screened by two authors against inclusion criteria for full-text review. Any discrepancies were settled by a senior author. Data was extracted from each study using a modified Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group's data extraction template. Study bias was evaluated using the ROBINS-I tool. Results: The study results reflect the diverse applications of tele-ultrasound in low-resource settings. Africa was the most common study location. The specialties of cardiology and obstetrics comprised most studies. Two studies primarily relied on smartphones for image recording and transmission. Real-time, rather than asynchronous, tele-ultrasound image interpretation occurred in five of the 12 studies. The most common outcome measures were image quality, telemedicine system requirements, diagnostic accuracy, and changes in clinical management. Limitations: The studies included were of poor quality with a dearth of randomized control trials and with significant between study heterogeneity which resulted in incomplete data and made cross study comparison difficult. Conclusions and Implications of Key Findings: Low-quality evidence suggests that ultrasound images acquired in resource-limited settings and transmitted using a telemedical platform to an expert interpreter are of satisfactory quality and value for clinical diagnosis and management.

Keywords: LMIC; eHealth; global health; resource-limited; tele-radiology; tele-ultrasound; telemedicine; ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review