Point-of-care cardiac ultrasound techniques in the physical examination: better at the bedside

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Abstract

The development of hand-carried, battery-powered ultrasound devices has created a new practice in ultrasound diagnostic imaging, called ‘point-of-care’ ultrasound (POCUS). Capitalising on device portability, POCUS is marked by brief and limited ultrasound imaging performed by the physician at the bedside to increase diagnostic accuracy and expediency. The natural evolution of POCUS techniques in general medicine, particularly with pocket-sized devices, may be in the development of a basic ultrasound examination similar to the use of the binaural stethoscope. This paper will specifically review how POCUS improves the limited sensitivity of the current practice of traditional cardiac physical examination by both cardiologists and non-cardiologists. Signs of left ventricular systolic dysfunction, left atrial enlargement, lung congestion and elevated central venous pressures are often missed by physical techniques but can be easily detected by POCUS and have prognostic and treatment implications. Creating a general set of repetitive imaging skills for these entities for application on all patients during routine examination will standardise and reduce heterogeneity in cardiac bedside ultrasound applications, simplify teaching curricula, enhance learning and recollection, and unify competency thresholds and practice. The addition of POCUS to standard physical examination techniques in cardiovascular medicine will result in an ultrasound-augmented cardiac physical examination that reaffirms the value of bedside diagnosis.

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