Evaluation of digital otoscopy in pediatric patients: A prospective randomized controlled clinical trial

Am J Emerg Med. 2021 Apr 27;46:150-155. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2021.04.030. Online ahead of print.


Background: Acute otitis media is often misdiagnosed. Pediatric trainees learn otoscopy from supervisors who cannot concurrently view the eardrum. Digital, smartphone otoscopes show promise to improve the visibility and learning due to a concurrent view by trainees and supervisors. We aimed to determine whether use of digital otoscopes improved accuracy of the ear exams between medical trainees and their supervisors, compared to using traditional otoscopes. Secondarily, we evaluated whether the use of digital otoscopes reduced the number of repeat ear examinations by supervisors, changed the trainee's confidence in their exam findings, and led to differences in the rate of antibiotics prescribed.

Methods: This study was a randomized controlled trial comparing use of a digital otoscope to a traditional otoscope, in a pediatric emergency department and primary care clinic in an academic tertiary care children's center. We used a modified validated image-based grading scale to compare accuracy of the ear exam between trainees and supervisors. Surveys documented modified OMgrade scores, frequency of supervisor exams, trainee confidence on a 5-point Likert scale, and antibiotic prescriptions. Inter-rater agreement of trainees and supervisors, the number of supervisor confirmatory examinations performed, trainee confidence, and antibiotic prescription rates were evaluated.

Results: Amongst 188 children, 375 ears were examined by 85 trainees and 22 supervisors. The digital otoscope was utilized in 92 (48.9%) exams and 96 (51.1%) used the traditional otoscope. Accuracy of ear exam findings between trainees and supervisors improved by 11.2% (95% CI: 1.5, 21.8%, p = 0.033) using the Cellscope Oto (74.8%, 95% CI: 67.3, 82.1%) compared to the traditional otoscope (63.5%, 95% CI: 56.7, 70.4%). Fewer repeat supervisor exams were performed in the digital otoscope group (27.2%) vs. the traditional otoscope group (97.9%) (p < 0.001). There was no difference in mean trainee confidence in their examination (p = 0.955) or antibiotic prescription rates when using digital versus traditional otoscopes (p = 0.071).

Conclusions: Utilization of a digital otoscope resulted in increased accuracy of the ear exam between trainees and supervisors, and fewer total number of examinations performed on a given child. Compared to a traditional otoscope, a digital otoscope may be a more efficient and effective diagnostic tool.

Keywords: Digital technology; Emergency department; Healthcare technology; Otoscopy; Pediatrics; Smartphone.