JOURNAL ARTICLE

The accuracy of portable ultrasonography to diagnose fractures in an austere environment

Christopher R McNeil, John McManus, Sumeru Mehta
Prehospital Emergency Care 2009, 13 (1): 50-2
19145524

BACKGROUND: Previous literature has shown the ability of ultrasonography technology to accurately assess orthopedic pathology. Over the past two decades, the use of ultrasound in the prehospital setting has become an important tool for triage, diagnosis, and treatment, especially in austere and remote environments that lack appropriate radiography capability and logistical support. The purpose of our study was to assess the accuracy of ultrasound in the austere, combat environment for diagnosis of orthopedic fracture.

METHODS: We conducted a longitudinal, prospective, observational study on patients presenting with suspected closed fractures using a digital handheld ultrasound device. All patients presenting with suspected fracture underwent an ultrasound examination by a board-certified emergency medicine physician credentialed in emergency ultrasonography. Patients were then categorized into ultrasound-positive and ultrasound-negative groups.

RESULTS: A total of 44 subjects underwent ultrasound examination for suspected fractures. There were initially 12 (27%) positive and 32 (73%) negative scans. Of the initial 12 positive scans, ten had a true fracture verified by plain radiography. Ultrasonography yielded an overall sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 94%. Only four patients with an initial negative ultrasound scan continued to have clinical symptoms for more than three days and were found to have no evidence of fracture by radiograph.

CONCLUSIONS: Our data show that use of ultrasound by an experienced clinician in the austere environment can be performed accurately and can possibly prevent unnecessary evacuations for suspected fractures requiring radiographic verification. The purpose of our study was to assess the accuracy of ultrasound examination in the austere, combat environment for diagnosis of orthopedic fracture.

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