Original Article

Point-of-Care Ultrasound as Part of a Short-Term Medical Mission to Rural Nicaragua

Authors: Keith R. Barron, MD, Joseph C. Lai, DO, Lacey P. MenkinSmith, MD, Jennifer S. Lee, DO, Mark E. Humphrey, MD, MPH, Jeffrey W. Hall, MD


Objectives: The lack of access to diagnostic imaging in resource-limited settings (RLSs) poses a worldwide problem. Advances in ultrasound (US) imaging technology bridge this gap, particularly when examinations are performed by physicians and integrated into the patient encounter, termed point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). Because the number of physicians participating in short-term medical missions (STMMs) is increasing, the authors sought to characterize how the use of POCUS would affect care delivered as part of a 1-week outreach trip in rural Nicaragua.

Methods: In February 2017, as part of an ongoing collaboration among the University of South Carolina, the Medical University of South Carolina, and OneWorld Health, the authors conducted an observational prospective study of all of the patients who received a POCUS examination as part of standard clinical practice during an STMM to Sébaco, Nicaragua. The goal was to determine how often POCUS changed medical management. In addition, the number and types of scans performed were recorded to assess the most common reasons for POCUS use.

Results: More than 1100 patients were seen, and a total of 79 POCUS examinations were performed on 59 patients by 2 physicians with extensive POCUS training. Eighty percent of the patients were women, with an average age of 40.5 years (range 1.6–87 years). The use of US changed management for 35.6% of total patients examined (N = 21), divided among changes in diagnosis, pharmacotherapy, new referral, or referral not needed. The average time to perform a POCUS examination was 6.0 minutes. A wide range of POCUS examinations were performed, with lung, gallbladder, obstetric/gynecologic, and cardiac examinations performed most often.

Conclusions: Incorporating POCUS by trained physicians in an RLS as part of an STMM was successful and often changed management. As interest in nonemergency and noncritical care POCUS increases and proliferation of low-cost, accurate, handheld US devices continues, it is probable that more physicians traveling to RLSs will use POCUS as part of STMMs, positively affecting patient care.

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