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Due to its portability and ability to provide quality diagnostic images, handheld ultrasound in emergency medicine shows impressive potential — most notably, in helping physicians reach a diagnosis in a short period of time. Because it enables physicians to gather information during the first stage of the physical exam, handheld ultrasound is a powerful tool in supporting triage decisions, reducing additional testing and wait times and quickly getting patients to treatment. This technology serves a broad range of patients and it empowers emergency medicine physicians to make confident decisions quickly.

According to a study published in Herz, Vscan™ is a “practical, portable device that provides rapid diagnostic information.” One-third of patients had significant findings on their ultrasound scans to possibly aid diagnosis and prevent misdiagnosis. Additionally, the study concluded that Vscan “has the potential to reduce time to diagnosis in the emergency department,” which is a benefit for both the patient and the caregiver.

To understand the diverse applications of handheld ultrasound, it’s useful to review a few examples.

Cardiovascular Urgencies

Patients frequently seek medical care due to cardiovascular urgencies. This condition requires prompt and accurate medical diagnosis to reduce negative outcomes, including death. A study in Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia concluded that focused echocardiography with pocket-size equipment in emergency care may allow a prompt diagnosis and, consequently, an earlier initiation of treatment.

Organ Lacerations and Free Intra-Abdominal Fluid

According to a study in the Emergency Medicine Journal, “In major trauma patients, examination with [hand-carried ultrasound] according to the ‘focused assessment with sonography for trauma’ [FAST] principles for the diagnosis of organ lacerations and free intra-abdominal fluid is a reliable and rapid alternative to contrast-enhanced multi detector CT (MDCT) scans.” It also concluded that handheld ultrasound can help save precious time in emergency situations and should, additionally, be evaluated in the pre-clinical workflow.

Differentiating Heart Failure from Pulmonary Disease

Quickly determining the cause of acute dyspnea is critical for patient triage. A study in Cardiovascular Ultrasound found that rapid evaluation by lung-cardiac-inferior vena cava (LCI) integrated ultrasound is extremely accurate for differentiating acute dyspnea due to acute heart failure syndromes (AFHS) from that caused by primary pulmonary disease in the emergency setting.

Vscan now seems to have a promising future as an “indispensable gadget, which, like the stethoscope, could be used by all medical practitioners and assist in the evaluation of trauma and other and other critical patients”— as the use of the device becomes more common.