Point-of-care ultrasound in primary care: a systematic review of generalist performed point-of-care ultrasound in unselected populations
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: Both the interest and actual extent of use of point-of-care ultrasound, PoCUS, among general practitioners or family physicians are increasing and training is also increasingly implemented in residency programs. However, the amount of research within the field is still rather limited compared to what is seen within other specialties in which it has become more established, such as in the specialty of emergency medicine. An assumption is made that what is relevant for emergency medicine physicians and their populations is also relevant to the general practitioner, as both groups are generalists working in unselected populations. This systematic review aims to examine the extent of use and to identify clinical studies on the use of PoCUS by either general practitioners or emergency physicians on indications that are relevant for the former, both in their daily practice and in out-of-hours services. Methods: Systematic searches were done in PubMed/MEDLINE using terms related to general practice, emergency medicine, and ultrasound. Results: On the extent of use, we identified 19 articles, as well as 26 meta-analyses and 168 primary studies on the clinical use of PoCUS. We found variable, but generally low, use among general practitioners, while it seems to be thoroughly established in emergency medicine in North America, and increasingly also in the rest of the world. In terms of clinical studies, most were on diagnostic accuracy, and most organ systems were studied; the heart, lungs/thorax, vessels, abdominal and pelvic organs, obstetric ultrasound, the eye, soft tissue, and the musculoskeletal system. The studies found in general either high sensitivity or high specificity for the particular test studied, and in some cases high total accuracy and superiority to other established diagnostic imaging modalities. PoCUS also showed faster time to diagnosis and change in management in some studies. Conclusion: Our review shows that generalists can, given a certain level of pre-test probability, safely use PoCUS in a wide range of clinical settings to aid diagnosis and better the care of their patients.