“A pregnancy test and a dip urine,” Dr. St. Louis responded. “Wow!” I replied in surprise. Having completed a fellowship in global health, I had learned that testing was severely limited in resource-limited settings, particularly outside of normal business hours. This was still impressive. We had just been discussing how things were going with his new job at Princess Alice Hospital and what tests were available overnight in his workplace that is located in the eastern mountains of Grenada. During weekday daytime hours, imaging is limited to plain film x-ray. Occasionally, there is an ultrasound technician also available. If desperate, the technicians can be called in from home. All other tests: blood, urine, CSF, must be batched and sent by car via a winding, serpiginous road over a mountain to the capital. If they’re lucky, you may get the test result in about 6 hours; however, most take up to 12 hours. Most advanced imaging, CT and MRI, are only available in the private sector.
I first met Dr. Daniel St. Louis just a few weeks after beginning the Masters of Emergency Medicine program offered by the University of Guyana and started with the help of Emergency Medicine faculty and Vanderbilt University. With other emergency medicine colleagues, I had spent a lot of time helping him learn to perform, interpret, and apply point-of-care ultrasound studies during his training in the Accident and Emergency Department at Georgetown Public Hospital before he returned to his native island in the south Caribbean. Dr. St. Louis immediately saw the benefit of ultrasound during his training and requested every piece of material possible to be able to master sonography.
The care that Daniel and his colleagues provide with limited testing is really impressive. But of all tests that Dr. St. Louis could be equipped with while caring for a sick patient on an overnight shift, ultrasound is uniquely valuable. Bedside ultrasound doesn’t require a technician, it is reusable, it is versatile, it provides rapid diagnosis of many critical illnesses, and it provides the diagnosis to actionable diseases where lives hang in the balance of the minutes and hours ultrasound saves. There are more significant tests: a microscope and Giemsa stain in a malaria endemic zone or rapid HIV testing at the national public health level. But when I was standing in front of a child in shock from shrapnel wounds outside Mosul, Iraq, an ultrasound probe is what I want most.
As bedside ultrasound machines continue to become more portable and more affordable, the significance of bedside ultrasound will continue to grow. This is true in a large academic tertiary medical center, in regional access hospitals in Grenada, and in critical access health posts in the most remote regions of the globe. AIUM and its members are uniquely positioned to aid in providing equipment and, more importantly, providing education and techniques to help improve the quality of bedside ultrasound as one of the most important clinical tests worldwide. Will we be up for the challenge?
If you work in a resource-limited setting, how is ultrasound most useful for you? How have you seen ultrasound incorporated into medical care in other nations? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.
Jordan Rupp, MD, RDMS, is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Director for Global Sounds: Ultrasound Development Project. Read more about Global Sounds at www.globalsoundsproject.org or continue the conversation on Twitter: @globalsounds_us.