Clinical Tests Worldwide

“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.

Ultrasound Made Me the Doctor I Wanted to Be

I didn’t come into medicine knowing much about what doctors really did. I also didn’t graduate my emergency medicine residency really believing point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) was all that useful. Maybe it’s just a fad, I remember thinking.Minardi, Joseph J.

There were two things I did come to enjoy about medicine: making interesting diagnoses and intervening in ways that helped patients. Those were the victories and they were always more satisfying when I got to do them as independently as possible. It was great to diagnose appendicitis with a CT scan, but I had to share at least some of the credit with the radiologist.

I remember sometimes being frustrated with the fragmentation of care in American medicine. Send the patient to another facility with these services, order this imaging study by this specialist, consult this specialist for this procedure, and so on.

A few cases early in my career really brought to light these frustrations.

One was a young woman who didn’t speak English who presented to our community hospital who appeared to have abdominal pain. It took hours after getting approval to call in a sonographer, consulting with the radiologist, and eventually calling in the gynecologist from home to take her to the operating room for her ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Hours went by while her condition worsened and I felt helpless, being uncertain about her diagnosis and relying on fragmented, incomplete information from others to make management decisions. Luckily, her youth allowed her to escape unscathed, but I was frustrated with what I didn’t know and couldn’t provide for her: a rapid, accurate diagnosis and quick definitive action.

In another case, a young boy was transferred to our tertiary care center for possible septic hip arthritis and waited nearly 24 hours to undergo more ED imaging, subspecialty consultation, then wait for the availability of the pediatric interventional radiologist to perform X-ray guided hip aspiration with procedural sedation. I remember again feeling helpless and seeing the hopelessness in the eyes of his parents after seeing so many doctors, spending so many hours far from home just waiting on someone to tell them what was wrong with their son and what was going to be done to help him.

After I was asked to lead POCUS education for our residency program and began to embrace it as a clinical tool, I encountered similar cases, but now with much more satisfying experiences for me as a physician, and hopefully, presumably for my patients. Now, I routinely hear stories from my residents and colleagues that go something like Hey Joe, check out this ectopic case, ED to OR in 20 minutes with bedside ultrasound. We have had cases of suspected hip arthritis where we were able to provide a diagnosis and care plan from the ED in 2–3 hours by performing bedside US-guided hip arthrocentesis. These and numerous other cases where diagnoses are made in minutes independently by the treating clinician have convinced me that POCUS can help improve healthcare. My colleagues and I have performed diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that we never would have considered attempting before we could competently use POCUS, allowing us to provide immediate care right where and when the patients needed it.

The “passing fad” of POCUS has allowed me to make medicine and being a doctor more into what I wanted it to be: seeing patients, giving them a diagnosis, decreasing the anxiety over uncertainty, and providing relief for their suffering. I trained and practiced without the advantages of ultrasound and I have seen the positive impact it can have not only on patients but also on the health care system and my job satisfaction as well. The advantages of more immediate, efficient diagnoses, better availability of advanced procedures can all be provided in a less fragmented, more cost-effective manner when treating clinicians are armed with and properly trained to use POCUS. There’s no way I would ever go back.

If you learned how to use ultrasound after you completed your original medical education, how did it affect your career? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Joseph J. Minardi, MD, is Chief of Emergency and Clinical Ultrasound, and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Medical Education at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.