Handheld ultrasound, a point-of-care, portable ultrasound device, which is now in use in the IWK Health Emergency Department (ED) is leading to better diagnosis and safer patients in these times of COVID-19. The Butterfly iQ is a handheld ultrasound device which produces pictures of the inside of the body that can be viewed on a cell phone or tablet. It helps emergency doctors make diagnoses and assist in performing procedures.
“Point-of-care ultrasound is a critical tool for triaging and managing patients,” says Dr. Kirstin Weerdenburg, an emergency doctor and Co-Director of Pediatric Emergency Ultrasound Program at the IWK. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we use it check the lungs for pneumonia and for fluid around the lung, but we can also look for so many other things in the body too, fluid in the abdomen or pelvis, appendicitis, fractures of long bones or skull bone, skin infections like an abscess, heart function or fluid around the heart. The list is long.”
The advantages of using point-of-care ultrasound also makes for a long list. There is no radiation associated with its use, it streamlines decision-making for patients, increases safety with difficult procedures, allows more diagnoses to be made at the bedside and improves patient satisfaction in the ED.
“For certain conditions it has been found to decrease length of stay in the ED,” says Weerdenburg. “That time can often be more than one hour shorter when point-of-care ultrasound is used.”
The handheld ultrasound devices have also been instrumental in reducing possible COVID-19 transmission within the ED and the health centre.
Traditionally ultrasound machines in the ED are attached to a tower that is rolled into each room to check patients at the bedside. Given the size of these machines and the various attached parts, it is difficult to protect the machine from contamination, as well as disinfect after its use. Handheld ultrasound devices are easier to protect and clean and decrease the need to move a patient from their negative pressure room or bring x-ray technicians into the room to complete a portable x-ray.
“The handheld ultrasound machines also allow us to get back to teaching our residents”, says Dr. Emma Burns, Co-Director of Pediatric Emergency Ultrasound Program and Program Director for Pediatric Emergency Medicine training program at the IWK. “During the COVID pandemic many teaching opportunities have been restricted, and not being able to take the portable machine into the rooms of patients with cough and fever greatly affected our ability to teach our residents this important skill. The handheld machines will allow all the staff and residents to safely get back to using ultrasound to provide the best care for the patients at the IWK emergency.”