How Can Point-of-Care Ultrasound Improve Care Delivery?

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A nurse practitioner shows an ultrasound image to a patient.Health care practitioners can optimize the quality of the care they provide and improve its long-term cost-effectiveness with convenient and time-saving technology such as point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). Point-of-care ultrasound gives health care practitioners the ability to more easily and accurately conduct physical assessments of patients at the bedside.

While this technology has been used in health care settings for more than three decades, only in recent years has it seen growing adoption. According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 44% of departments use POCUS in ambulatory clinical care, with 81% of departments reporting they had at least one faculty member trained in the use of this technology.

Point-of-care ultrasound is becoming more widely accepted and used across various health care settings, from physician offices and clinics to hospital outpatient departments. Deployed effectively, this technology can deliver immediate insights into a patient’s condition, allowing for faster, more accurate diagnoses, which can ultimately help improve health care outcomes.

Practitioners with a graduate education are well-equipped to use tools like POCUS and other technological innovations to advance patient care.

What Is Point-of-Care Ultrasound?

Explaining how it works is the best way to describe what point-of-care ultrasound is for individuals who may be interested in developing the relevant skills to use it.

Point-of-care ultrasound is a type of imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce real-time images of a patient’s internal organs and structures.

To acquire the images, a health care practitioner uses a handheld device, such as a probe or transducer, that can be easily maneuvered over the patient’s body. This device typically takes two-dimensional images of internal organs and structures. However, three-dimensional imaging can also be used depending on the diagnosed condition. A laptop or tablet is used for viewing images.

POCUS allows practitioners to diagnose conditions — from life-threatening events such as heart attacks or strokes to conditions such as cardiac and vascular diseases, abdominal diseases, pulmonary diseases, internal bleeding, and serious injuries — in a fraction of the time it would take to perform a traditional imaging procedure.

Many prenatal nursing roles can benefit from using point-of-care ultrasound technology as well. For example, nurses involved in prenatal care can use it to assess the growth and development of fetuses and monitor the health of mothers. This technology is particularly advantageous in emergency medicine and can also be used in outpatient clinics and in-home settings, among others.

Benefits of Point-of-Care Ultrasound

The primary benefit of point-of-care ultrasound is that it provides health care practitioners with immediate insights into a patient’s condition. POCUS provides a noninvasive, cost-effective way to diagnose and monitor conditions without the need for costly traditional diagnostic imaging such as CT scans or MRIs. Its implementation speeds up diagnosis, which can increase patient safety — the faster a condition is identified, the sooner it can be treated. This can help reduce the length of a patient’s stay in the hospital.

These factors contribute to improved patient satisfaction. According to a BMC Primary Care report, 95% of surveyed patients said that point-of-care ultrasound enhanced the level of service they received, while 94% cited improvement in the quality of their care.

With traditional imaging technologies, patients typically have to be transported to specialized departments such as radiology. Point-of-care ultrasound reduces the need to transfer patients and to involve another clinician, such as a radiologist, which translates to direct and indirect cost savings.

Because nurses are often at the forefront of care delivery, they’re uniquely positioned to use POCUS technology to improve patient care. According to a report in The Nurse Practitioner, the use of point-of-care ultrasound in nurse practitioner primary care contributes to more efficient diagnosis, enhanced treatment accuracy, lower costs, and improved patient outcomes.

POCUS may be especially beneficial in health care settings that have limited resources and access to formal diagnostic imaging, such as in rural and remote communities.

Challenges to Implementing Point-of-Care Ultrasound

Despite the convenience, cost-efficiency, and quality of care benefits of point-of-care ultrasound, health care organizations often face challenges in implementing the technology. For example, insufficient training produces a risk of misinterpretation and misdiagnoses, which can impact patient outcomes.

Proper use of POCUS requires a skill set that encompasses proficiency with the equipment, expertise in clinical assessment and interpretation, and specialized knowledge of human anatomy. Therefore, education and training are essential. Teaching staff how to use point-of-care ultrasound can be cost-prohibitive however, and the cost of the equipment itself may be out of reach for some facilities.

Point-of-care ultrasound does not replace radiologist-interpreted images; it complements traditional forms of imaging and radiology. Nonetheless, its introduction can create quality assurance concerns in some health care settings. For example, over-reliance on POCUS when a more comprehensive exam by an imaging specialist is recommended can lead to misdiagnosis.

Even if an organization is willing to adopt the technology, potential delays in patient care due to surges in demand may cause roadblocks for health care facilities to do so effectively. This can lead some facilities to postpone the adoption of the technology, sometimes indefinitely.

To help a facility overcome these hurdles, advanced practice registered nurses can apply their leadership skills, understanding of medical technology, and other core competencies to smoothly integrate POCUS into their care delivery strategies with minimal disruption.

Shape the Future of Health Care

Relative to other medical imaging technology, point-of-care ultrasound equipment is small in size. But it can have a monumental impact in health care as an effective tool for assessing and diagnosing patients.

According to the data, when physicians and advanced practice registered nurses incorporate this technology into their practices, patients associate it with a higher level of care, improving patient satisfaction rates. The benefits of point-of-care ultrasound go beyond improving clinical performance and patient outcomes and include time- and cost-saving advantages as well.

To unlock the potential of this important technology, advanced practice registered nurses should consider learning the proper techniques and protocols for using it in their clinical practice. For individuals looking to leverage innovation in care delivery, enrolling in Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to use the latest technological advances to deliver the best possible care to their patients.

Learn how Regis College’s online MSN program can help you prepare for a career as an advanced practice registered nurse with the expertise to help shape the future of health care.

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Annals of Medicine and Surgery, “The Utility of Point of Care Ultrasonography (POCUS)”

BMC Primary Care, “Patients’ Experiences of the Use of Point-of-Care Ultrasound in General Practice — A Cross-Sectional Study”

Cureus, “The Benefits and Barriers of Using Point-of-Care Ultrasound in Primary Healthcare in the United States”

GE Healthcare, “Quality Healthcare Supplies Promote Quality Healthcare”

IBM, “What Is Healthcare Innovation?”

Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, “Current State of Point-of-Care Ultrasound Use Within Family Medicine”

The Nurse Practitioner, “Point-of-Care Ultrasound”

Philips, “POCUS: An Introduction to Point-of-Care Ultrasound Technology”

The Ultrasound Journal, “Barriers to Learning and Using Point-of-Care Ultrasound: A Survey of Practicing Internists in Six North American Institutions”