Review Article

Point-of-Care Ultrasound in Established Settings

Authors: Dustin Morrow, MD, Julia Cupp, MD, David Schrift, MD, Robert Nathanson, MD, Nilam J. Soni, MD, MSc


The original and most widely accepted applications for point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) are in the settings of trauma, shock, and bedside procedures. Trauma was the original setting for the introduction of POCUS and has been standardized under the four-plus view examination called the Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST). This examination was found to be especially practice changing for achieving rapid diagnoses in critically ill patients who are too unstable for the delays and transportation inherent in more advanced imaging with computed tomography. This application was broadened from the critically ill trauma patient to any critically ill patient, particularly the patient in undifferentiated shock. Although the Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma examination originally focused on sources of hemorrhage causing hypovolemic shock, POCUS also can quickly differentiate cardiogenic, obstructive, and distributive shock and help identify the more specific etiology such as massive pulmonary emboli, pericardial tamponade, and pneumothoraces. By expediting diagnosis, POCUS facilitates faster definitive treatment of life-threatening conditions. In pursuing treatment, US continues to serve a role in the form of visually guiding many procedures that were previously done blindly. US guidance of procedures has improved the safety of central line insertion, thoracentesis, and paracentesis, and has an emerging role in lumbar puncture. Experience in bedside US is becoming a vital tool in the clinician’s bedside assessment and management, filling a void between the stethoscope and the more advanced studies and interventions available through radiology. Understanding the strengths and limitations of US enables clinicians to identify the appropriate situations in which they can apply this tool confidently.


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