Cardiology, Cardiology, Critical Care, Improving Outcomes, Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Pulmonary, Radiology, Radiology

Probing the dyspneic patient.

For undifferentiated dyspnea, how would you like to have an accurate diagnosis in 24 minutes?

I love this study.

Basically, for all dyspneic patients (not trauma related, and over age 18), 10 EP’s were given an H&P, vital signs, and an EKG, as well as access to a Chest X-Ray, Chest CT, cardiologist performed echo, and labs including an ABG.

These same 2,683 patients, in tandem, had point of care ultrasound testing (lung, IVC, echo). Here’s the catch – the ultrasonographers were only provided the H&P, vital signs, and EKG then asked to make a diagnosis. The treating provider was blinded to POCUS diagnosis.

These numbers for diagnostic accuracy of POCUS are astounding.

+LR for acute HF? 22 (-LR 0.12)

+LR for ACS? 105 !!!

+LR for pneumonia? 10.5 (-LR 0.13)

+LR for pleural effusion? 95 (-LR 0.23)

+LR for pericardial effusion? 325!!! (-LR 0.14)

+LR for COPD/asthma? 22 (-LR 0.14)

+LR for PE? 345!!!

+LR for pneumothorax? 4635!!! (-LR 0.12)

+LR for ARDS? 90

Yes, for certain things like pneumonia, the difference in p-values between tradition means and POCUS diagnosis was not significantly different, but what about volume status? I cant imagine blindly giving 30 cc/kg would benefit the patient with a plethoric IVC and pleural effusion. There is some elegance a play here.

Additionally, sure, ED diagnosis for ACS had a higher LR, but they also had a cardiologist performing and interpreting echos in the ED (a rather rare siting in a US ED I would imagine) – without much improvement in their -LR (0.53 vs 0.48). For PE, the -LR of POCUS was predictably mediocre if not outright bad (0.6), while the -LR for ED diagnosis of PE, with the benefit of chest CT, was -0.10.

Now look, I get that these EP’s were quite sono-savvy. They all had 2+ years of experience, over 80 hours of ultrasound lessons & training, with at least 150 lung and 150 ED echo’s under their belt. The diagnosis was made in 24 minutes with POCUS in comparison to 186 minutes for traditional means. And while most of us can not do a year+ ultrasound fellowship, and neither can we all be as savvy with the probe as these authors (or Matt, Mike, Jacob, Resa, Laleh, etc) – it does not mean we shouldnt try. You can still greatly increase your yield just by practicing. To boot, the cognitive offload you experience by saving yourself a few hours by (correctly!) knowing which direction you are heading with a patient is an immense boon to both your mental heath & your patients well being.

Improving Outcomes, Improving Throughput, Radiology

Ultrasound MiniFellowship, eh?

Are you looking for a bridge after taking an ultrasound course at a conference?  Do you feel like you need a bit more oversight until you get comfortable with probe in hand?  Are you having trouble conceptualizing what it means to have ultrasound guide your practice in the critically ill?… Read on.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a CCUS POCUS mini-fellowship –  it was everything I was hoping for & more- and has pushed me to be a better clinician.

First, a blurb about ultrasound fellowships.  As a PA, there isn’t really any hands on US training during our programs.  There likely is some POCUS for PA EM residents – but most practicing EM PA’s are not residency trained.  Therefore, we’re at the mercy of our co-workers who may (or may not) have any US training.  It’s hard to learn POCUS when you don’t have someone over your shoulder to guide you!

I had done a few ultrasound courses, but was struggling to really implement it into my practice regularly.  Ultimately, this was my own fault.  I was repeatedly told to pick up the probe and practice.  Literally, every sono-savvy person has told me this.  A large part of my problem was that I did not pick up the probe immediately after courses to drill down on fundamentals – and scan every person regardless of their complaint.  This is not meant to disrespect those that I took courses with before – they were *extremely* helpful and I’m incredibly thankful for their expertise! – the fact that I continued to seek out ultrasound training is a testament to prior courses showing me the importance of developing this tool set.  Now, onto Canada.

I ended up taking a 2 day course with Philippe Rola in Montreal.  Philippe is extremely responsive via email, we had spoken on the phone a few times prior to my arrival as well.  He’s friendly, approachable, and has been doing mini-fellowships since 2009 (!).

I was looking to optimizing views, particularly on patients with challenging anatomy (I mean, have you seen the average American BMI recently?), and what started with, “where the hell is the IVC” turned into, “This is a plethoric IVC.”  While it might be that the 3rd (or is it 4th?) time is the charm for courses for me, and that I would get it eventually via spaced repetition, but there is something about practicing on patients with acute illness and watching Rola make decisions based on POCUS in real time that helps put the pieces together a bit faster.

I believe the main advantage of this US course is the real time feedback on real patients… and if you are there for more than one day, you get to watch the ICU story unfold.  You see about 10-12 patients in their ICU, and a handful of ICU consults on the floors or in the ED.  You may or may not go to a rapid response, and see how it really makes a difference in the heat of the moment.  Fortunately, this is not reminiscent of your student days when the mentor says, “You’ll have to sit this out, this one’s mine, sorry.”  Philippe was extremely patient with me in the hypotensive altered patient while I scanned.  He’s excellent at questioning at just the right time to help tie it together- “ok, what are you seeing? A plump IVC and some pleural effusions in this hypotensive patient?  So whats your next step?”

To maximize your experience, I would strongly encourage you to have 1-2 specific goals in mind like, “I want be able to consistently visualize the IVC and have a few back up views just in case.” Expecting more than 1-2 things is probably spreading yourself thin.  You’re not going to become a pro overnight.  Be upfront & honest with Rola – he can tailor to your skill level- whether it be an assessment of valvular function or just wanting to visualize the heart.  Philippe had recommended 2-3 days at a time, which I agree with – I think after 2-3 days you reach the point of diminishing returns and “get full.”  You need some time to process what you’ve learned, and to practice on your own (before going back!).

Upon my return home, I made it a point to utilize the probe on my next shift.  If at all possible, I would recommend arranging shifts to be “main ED” shifts when you get back home such that you see the belly pain, shortness of breath, and chest pain patients so that you can apply what you learned immediately.  I did this on my first shift back with the hope of scanning 5 patients or more – I literally brought the machine with me when I walked into the room.  Surprisingly, I thought it would slow me down.  This was not the case at all.  I also realized a major benefit that I was not expecting.  The cognitive offloading of using the probe and eliminating some of the guess work kept me fresher longer. I saw more patients than average, with sicker than average patients, and it did not feel like taxing shift at all.  I didnt have to task switch to check on that xray or CT nearly as much as I usually do (though I was still ordering what I usually would to confirm suspicions since I’m still early in POCUS training)…. I would be interested to see the throughput of docs using POCUS vs those not, and I’d also like to see the level of “decision fatigue” at the end of a shift – I’m convinced that POCUS provides a significant cognitive offload to the EM provider, and the POCUS’ers are less fatigued at the end of their shift.

Bottom line, I think I needed other courses to whet my appetite and open the door, and I needed Montreal to push me through the door and get me to start practicing more.  If you work in an environment where you don’t have much POCUS backup and want to learn with one of the best and don’t want to break the bank, come to Montreal!

Improving Outcomes, Pediatrics

Baby LPs, ultrasounds, and fragility



How fitting that the SMACCdub talk, What Scares You, has recently been released, and, to some extent, discusses pediatric bleeding. Well, this paper discusses high risk peds (febrile infant <60 days) and (post LP) bleeding, and whether or not ultrasound assisted guidance helps.

SPOILER ALERT: (it probably does).

From February 2007-December 2007 (wow, talk about a knowledge translation delay), the authors attempted to enroll 46 total patients to either standard LP without ultrasound vs ultrasound assisted LP. Here’s one key point – while ultrasound guidance means direct visualization of the needle into the desired space (like for central lines or paracentesis), ultrasound assisted means that landmarks were sonographically visualized, and then they marked the skin and estimated how deep was too deep for the needle, then performed the LP (without direct visualization.-Basically they performed an ultrasound to determine a “maximum safe depth” to limit needle advancement to avoid traumatic taps, since this is a common element of LP failure in this age group.

Patients with known spinal abnormality or VP shunt were excluded, and the procedures were done by either a house officer or pediatric NP with MD oversight (so, I’m not certain how applicable this is to those of us with significant experience in this age group). Unfortunately, the study was terminated prior to reaching their goal of enrolling 23 patients into each group due to academic calendar demands of the lead author (21 vs 22 patients in either arm – meh.) Success was defined as <10k RBC and whether or not CSF was obtained. Their 5 month historical failure rate was 44%.

The groups did not differ in terms of prematurity, patient weight or length, there was a lower median age in ultrasound assisted group (38 days vs 45 days p=0.02), which may give them a bit more of an uphill battle. The results are seen below:



On first glance, these look good – less frequent traumatic taps, more frequently obtaining CSF with NNTs of 3.7 and 5.6 respectively. However, with such a small sample size, a Fragility index of 1, and having house officers and NP’s do the tap (with an unclear level of experience), I’m not certain this is broadly applicable to all providers, particularly when you add that 19 sono-assisted attempts are not enough to reach 80%  success in this study.  With that said, we commonly perform interventions with much lower NNTs with higher risks to the patient than a few ultrasonic waves. This is a cant hurt, will probably help intervention that we should probably be utilizing more frequently for all of our patients, not just our pediatric population.

For a great review on this topic check out sonomojo for more on ultrasound use for LPs.

Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Radiology, Radiology

Whaddaya Mean You Can’t Learn POCUS?

After taking a few one day ultrasound courses, a common theme amongst classmates is something to the effect of, “well, I get it now, but what about next week when the instructor isn’t there to guide me?”

Admittedly, I have wondered about the same thing; and wondered about the retention of knowledge and ability to apply what you have learned at these 1-2 day crash courses.

So you think you cant learn ultrasound? Or that you can not retain it after a weekend course? Well, those damn whippersnappers from Oregon are putting the non-believers to shame.

Medicine interns at Oregon Health & Science University were taught point of care ultrasound 3 months into their first year, as one day of a 5 day medical “boot-camp.” The day-long program consisted of 15-20 minutes of didactic training, and was followed by a 40 minute hands on session. Learners were placed in groups of 2-3 individuals and taught one-hour modules consisting of: the basics (knobology, physics, etc), CLUE protocol, FAST exam, hydronephrosis eval, and aorta & neck anatomy.  The 40 minute hands on portion was divided into 20 minutes for completing modules demonstrating pathology on SonoSim machines and 20 min for facilitator-led hands-on practice with volunteer models. (example- 20 didactic minutes learning FAST, 20 minutes on simulation, then 20 minutes on a real-live person!).  This was followed by two optional 1 hour courses done within 6 months.

A 30 question multiple choice test was administered prior to the course to all 33 interns, testing image interpretation, image acquisition/optimization, and clinical applications of ultrasound. The test was re-administered 6 months later; there was a significant drop out rate (27%), and it was untracked as to whom took the optional one hour courses.

Survey says?

Mean pretest scores – 61%

Mean post-test scores- 85%

Mean 6 month post-test scores – 79%

Great news – We probably intuitively know & retain much more than we think, but just have to continue to pick up the probe to hone our craft.  Bad news, I’m not certain that an ability to retain enough knowledge to improve a multiple choice test score is the same as making a correct clinical decision off of limited ultrasound skills.  Admittedly, POCUS in the wrong hands can be a problem, and making clinical decisions based off limited ultrasound skills and knowledge is a difficult leap to take, but its one we invariably have to make in order to grow as a clinician.

So, yeah, don’t tell me you can’t learn ultrasound.

Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting, Pulmonary

Sono-guided ACLS

This study demonstrates what many of us have probably suspected – the absence of cardiac activity on ultrasound portends a grave diagnosis; but this study really is so much more.

Utilizing 20 sites across the US and Canada from May 2011-Nov 2014 looked at all nontraumatic in-ED and out of hospital cardiac arrests that arrived to the ED in either PEA or asystole, and whether or not POCUS demonstrated a potential role in resuscitation.

953 patients, 793 used for final analysis (106 not included due to resuscitation under 5 minutes, 8 patients DNR, 1 uninterpretable sono, 3 with incomplete timing data, 42 for no ACLS meds given) – had a cardiac sono at the “beginning and end of ACLS.” The primary outcome was percentage of patients that survived to hospital admission, with secondary outcomes of survival to discharge and ROSC. Unfortunately, neurologic intact survival was not evaluated. The treating EP’s were credentialed in POCUS at their local institutions and unblinded. Digital clips were reviewed by a single reviewer in a blinded fashion for agreement (which was deemed to be “substantial agreement”).

The data (numbers are percentage, such that “28.9” = the percentage of patients with cardiac activity on POCUS during the resuscitation who survived to admission):



Cutting to the chase, this study brings up a number of key points:

-PEA on the monitor may not necessarily be PEA, with a whopping 54% of patients having cardiac activity on POCUS

-asystole on the monitor may not be cardiac standstill, as 10% had cardiac activity on POCUS

– survival to admission with cardiac activity on POCUS is MUCH higher – 28.9% vs 7.2%, but….

– cardiac activity on POCUS for PEA/asystole portends only a 3.8% survival to discharge

-no cardiac activity = poor prognosis, 0.6% of patients survived (3 out of 530). With two of the three patients were Vfib at some point during EMS working on them.

-pericardial effusion was seen in 34 patients (4.3% of those in the final analysis). 15.3% of patients whom had a pericardiocentesis performed survived to discharge.

– only 15 patients received lytics for suspected PE, with only one (6.7%) surviving to discharge. (which was almost the MORTALITY rate of PEAPETT)


Whew. This is a lot to digest. Let’s just say that ultrasound helps you tease out a spectrum of disease and further characterizes what you are dealing with. I’m looking at POCUS in codes as a risk stratification tool. Is there a prolonged time without cardiac activity without a potentially reversible causes? Might want to consider calling it earlier since survival to discharge is abysmally low. And sheesh… 1 out of 25 cardiac arrests had a pericardial effusion??? Wow. Time to brush up on those pericardiocentesis skills.

Caveats- this was done by EP’s credentialed for POCUS, so they’re likely more talented than the rest of us.  Dont let that scare you though, rather, this.  Perhaps seeing cardiac movement on ultrasound lends a “bridge to hope” and the team puts in a more-heroic-than-usual effort.

And of course, this also leads to more questions- of those 28.9% with cardiac activity that survive to admission, what if they are brought straight to the cath lab? Or started on ECMO? Would this potentially alter survival rates and neurologically intact survival in meaningful ways? Time shall tell.  Until then, cut that KT window, pick up the probe, and have your TPA & long pericardiocentesis needle ready.

Critical Care, Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting

1 in 10 EGLS saves a life.

Do current sepsis guidelines go far enough?

That was my first thought when I read today’s article. This single center ICU study looked at 220 patients divided into two categories- one category in which patients that were managed in adherence with the 2012 surviving sepsis guidelines – 20-49 ml / kg initial IV fluid bolus, continued fluid challenges until CVP of 8-12, with more given based on treating team. Noradrenaline until MAP of 65, and dobutamine for cvSO2 <70% in combination with either lactate >2 or urine output <0.5 ml / kg / hr). The other 110 patients had treatment guided by limited echo:

Treatment options looked like this:

1) IVC fluctuation <15% & normal LV function= give pressors only (discontinue IV fluid)

2) IVC fluctuation >15% & normal LV function = 20-40 ml /kg IV fluid given

3) IVC fluctuation >15% & mod/severe LV function = 10-20ml/kg IV fluid given AND initiate dobutamine 5ug/kg/min

4) IVC fluctuation <15% & mod/severe LV function = discontinue IV fluid and initiate dobutamine 5 ug/kg/min


These patients were pretty sick- all patients were mechanically ventilated and on noradrenaline. Limited echo was performed within 24 hours of presentation to ICU and within 36 hours of presentation to the ED (actual times were within 7-15 hours in the ICU, on average, 11 hours). Patient characteristics were pretty similar in terms of age, APACHE scores, and labs (similar ESRD/CHF percentage as well ~20% of both patient arms). Surprisingly, patients received a ridiculous amount of IV fluid from the ED – 68 (55-70) ml / kg in the echo group vs 65 (55-72) ml / kg in the standard of care arm. Yes, even with 20% of patients having ESRD / CHF – the least amount of IVF given was 55 ml / kg !


Despite all of this IV fluid given in the ED, 35% of patients still have >15% IVC collapse (!). 65% of patients had their fluid restricted, and 22% in the echo arm vs 12% in the standard of care were started on dobutamine. On Day 1 in the ICU, patients received less IVF in the echo arm (49 (33-74) ml / kg, vs 66 (42=100) ml / kg) – but still a significant amount if IVF.

28 day survival was 56% vs 66% in favor of the echo arm, with significantly less acute kidney injury (65% vs 88% for all AKI, and 19% vs 36% for stage 3 AKI).

So your NNT to save a life is 10, and 4 to reduce incidence of any AKI.

So, is this really an ED paper? Well, it depends on your area of practice. The local flavor of the authors is such that their local policy was to initiate dobutamine in the ICU and not in the ED. Are you boarding ICU players? Are your hospitalists ultrasono savvy? How involved are your intensivists in patient care while patients are awaiting an ICU bed? Are you okay with administering at least 40 ml /kg IV fluid and starting pressors on your septic shock patients? If the answer is no or “not really” to any of these questions, then the answer is yes.

Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Radiology, Radiology

Sono-guided Right IJ? Skip the chest film.

1,322 sono guided IJ central lines. Guess how many pneumothoraces.

One. Exactly one.

Overall success rate – 96.9%.

One percent of the time the catheter required repositioning. So, basically a failed rate of 2%.

Zero arterial placements.

Sure, 1,322 over a one year period is insanity (Henry Ford in Detroit, if you’re curious), and you can easily argue that a hospital that places that many central lines probably has it down cold.

Bottom line, if you are competent enough to place an ultrasound guided right sided IJ central line, you can skip the xray, especially if it is going to delay care. You do not image your femoral lines before usage, do you?