A randomised experiment comparing low-cost ultrasound gel alternative with commercial gel

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Abstract

Objective

Point-of-care ultrasound is a portable, relatively low-cost imaging modality with great potential utility in low-resource settings. However, commercially produced ultrasound gel is often cost-prohibitive and unavailable. We investigated whether images obtained using an alternative cornstarch-based gel would be of comparable quality with those using commercial gel.

Methods

This was a blinded, randomised, cross-over study comparing commercially produced ultrasound gel with home-made cornstarch-based gel. Ultrasound-trained faculty obtained three video clips with each gel type from patients at one urban ED. The clips were evaluated by a radiologist and an ultrasound-trained emergency physician. Images were assessed in terms of overall adequacy (dichotomous) and quality, resolution and detail using a rating scale (0–10). All sonographers and physicians reviewing the images were blinded to the type of gel used.

Results

Thirty-four patients were enrolled in the study, producing 204 separate images (102 with each gel). The cornstarch gel clips were deemed accurate in 70.6% (95% CI 63.9% to 76.5%) of the scans, as compared with 65.2% (95% CI 58.4% to 71.4%) of those using commercial gel. There was no difference between the two groups with respect to image detail, resolution or quality.

Conclusions

Images produced using the cornstarch-based alternative ultrasound gel were of similar quality to those using commercial gel. The low cost and easy preparation of the cornstarch-based gel make it an attractive coupling medium for use in low-resource settings.

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