Color Doppler ultrasonography by emergency physicians for the diagnosis of acute deep venous thrombosis

B T Jolly, E Massarin, E C Pigman
Academic Emergency Medicine 1997, 4 (2): 129-32

OBJECTIVES: To assess the feasibility of emergency physicians' (EPs') performing color-flow Doppler ultrasonographic vascular studies in the ED to diagnose deep venous thrombosis (DVT), after a modest training program.

METHODS: A retrospective observational review was performed of the performance of color-flow Doppler ultrasonographic vascular studies by EPs. Prior to the study period, venous Doppler studies were not available at off-hours. Two attending EPs were trained by the hospital's vascular laboratory by observing studies and then performing 25-30 studies successfully. They were then available to examine all patients presenting to the ED at off-hours who were suspected of having DVT. Patients were admitted or released from the ED based on the examination results. All patients were to have formal vascular laboratory studies the next day. The study was performed at a university hospital ED and evaluated all patients who underwent off-hour examinations from January 1993 to February 1994. The examiners were aware of the clinical scenario.

RESULTS: Of 23 eligible patients, 15 completed the protocol with a follow-up next-day study. Based on the follow-up study, the ED examination was 100% sensitive (7 true positives) and 75% specific (6 true negatives). The 2 false-positive studies were for patients with old DVT. The 8 patients without follow-up studies were not included in the analysis, although 4 of these patients had negative studies and unremarkable clinical outcomes.

CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary findings suggest that Doppler ultrasonographic studies of the lower extremity veins by EPs can be used to make admission decisions when formal studies are not available. Confirmatory studies should be performed. EPs may overread acute thrombosis in the setting of old venous disease. Issues of cost and logistics remain to be resolved.

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