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Implementation of a point-of-care ultrasound archiving system and governance framework in a UK physician-paramedic staffed helicopter emergency medical service.

INTRODUCTION: There has been a rapid expansion in the use of point-of-care ultrasonography (POCUS) by emergency medical services (EMS). However, less than a third of UK EMS utilise imaging archiving for POCUS, and fewer review saved images as part of a clinical governance structure. This paper describes the implementation of a novel image archiving system and a robust clinical governance framework in our UK physician-paramedic staffed helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS).

METHODS: A retrospective database review was conducted of all patients attended by East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) between the introduction of a new POCUS device and image archiving system on 1 December 2020 to 31 January 2024. All patients with recorded POCUS examinations were included. Images from POCUS examinations at EAAA are archived on a cloud-based server, and retrospectively reviewed within 24 h by an EAAA POCUS supervisor. Image quality is graded using a 5-point Likert-type scale, agreement between reviewer and clinician is recorded and feedback is provided on scanning technique. T-tests were used to assess the difference in image quality between physicians and paramedics. Inter-rater reliability between reviewers and clinicians was assessed using Cohen's kappa (κ).

RESULTS: During the study period, 5913 patients were attended by EAAA. Of these, 1097 patients had POCUS images recorded. The prevalence of POCUS during the study period was 18.6%. 1061 patient examinations underwent quality assurance (96.7%). The most common POCUS examination was echocardiography (60%), predominantly during cardiac arrest. The primary scanning clinician was a paramedic in 25.4% of POCUS examinations. Across all examination types; image quality was not significantly different between physicians and paramedics and agreement between reviewers and clinicians was strong (κ > 0.85).

CONCLUSIONS: In this service evaluation study, we have described outcomes following the introduction of a new POCUS device, image archiving system and governance framework in our HEMS. Paramedics were the primary scanning clinician in a quarter of scans, with image quality comparable to physicians. Almost all scans underwent quality assurance and inter-rater reliability was strong between clinicians and reviewers. Further research is required to investigate the diagnostic accuracy of POCUS and to demonstrate the effect of utilising prehospital POCUS to refine diagnosis on clinical outcomes.

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