Patient Triage

Speed and accuracy are absolutely critical when it comes to patient triage during trauma situations. Although handheld ultrasound can help improve processes and outcomes in a variety of medical applications, the benefits of the technology compound quickly in trauma situations, where time is of the essence. While the use of handheld ultrasound has recently been demonstrated as a valuable tool in triaging COVID-19 patients, it has been used for quite some time in a variety of other triage situations.


Handheld Ultrasound At Work In Patient Triage

Take the case of Jeff Hersh, MD, and his work as a physician with Boston Strong MA1 Disaster Medical Assist Team when it was tasked with responding to medical emergencies caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. After the storm, he used handheld ultrasound to prioritize patient treatment. In one case, his team encountered a patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who had missed a dialysis treatment because of the hurricane.

With the information gathered from using handheld ultrasound, he was able to quickly examine her lungs and determine that her shortness of breath was a result of existing COPD.  If pulmonary fluid had been causing her breathing difficulties, she would have required emergency dialysis. Using the handheld technology helped Dr. Hersh ascertain the proper level of care for the patient and obviated the need for emergency care. This also avoided putting unnecessary strain on the makeshift healthcare system that had been assembled to support hurricane victims.

Handheld ultrasound technology becomes increasingly important during a national or global healthcare crisis, such as COVID-19, when the healthcare system is at maximum capacity and resources are extremely limited. Regardless of the specific triage system in place where care is being delivered, handheld ultrasound can help facilitate fast triage decisions and the triage process overall.

Impact of Handheld Ultrasound In Patient Triage

The use of handheld ultrasound during natural disasters is just one example of how the technology can be used in patient triage environments during trauma. It has already proven its merit in other, non-disaster and non-urgent care situations, whether in the emergency department or elsewhere.

Clinicians triaging patients with suspected cardiac disease have found that using handheld ultrasound at the point-of-care during a physical examination may result in physicians altering their initial diagnosis. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology concluded, “During patient triage, extension of the physical examination by (POCUS) can cause physicians to alter their initial diagnosis, resulting in an immediate change of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.”

Handheld ultrasound also has application for patient triage uses in obstetrics and gynecology. For example, a study in Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology evaluated the performance and potential impact of a pocket-sized ultrasound compared to high-specification ultrasound machines. The study concluded that the “findings and final diagnosis in the three study groups were similar for both a pocket-sized ultrasound machine used transabdominally and a high-specification machine used transvaginally and/or transabdominally.”

The handheld technology can be used for different categories of patient triage. In situations where there are multiple patients who must be prioritized, instant access to handheld ultrasound technology can provide clinicians with a tool to assist with gathering information for triage decisions. This helps physicians identify and prioritize patients in need of immediate care. Patients who can endure delayed care, and those with minor and non-life threatening ailments are then attended to based on the quick diagnosis and clinician’s knowledge of each individual case.

Improving the Patient Experience

The portability of handheld ultrasound is an ideal fit for situations in which both speed and accuracy are necessary in providing patients with proper medical care and addressing their pain and concerns. Handheld ultrasound not only helps the caregiver provide an improved experience and outcomes for their patients, but it also becomes a powerful tool for medical professionals. In an era where speed and accuracy of diagnosis is crucial to medical providers, handheld technology enables efficient and quality care for patients.

While traditional ultrasound has provided similar benefits, handheld ultrasound as a tool that assists physicians in making triage decisions offers both speed and accuracy that is particularly impactful in emergency medicine settings. Not only can handheld ultrasound devices be used to diagnose and prioritize patient care, they can also be used to monitor treatment. Those with existing conditions, particularly COVID-19, benefit from the portable technology that can provide support to the clinician in emergency situations.

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