As we embark on this season of giving, we all have the same question on our minds: How can we cut costs? Everyday expenses continue to rise and so does the fear of additional expenditures. Healthcare has not been spared from inflation. Instead, anxiety mounts as the cold weather of December and January often brings a spike in viral infections such as influenza or COVID-19. Trips to the emergency room tend to populate faster than other times of the year due to these ailments, adding to the fear of overspending this time of year.
Decisions on how to navigate any unforeseen costs must be made in light of the angst we all feel. Fortunately, point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has been shown to cut down on the cost of diagnosis as well as time spent in the emergency department (ED). By doing so, it offers an opportunity to combat patients’ fears of overspending and return them to their families in as timely a manner as possible.
A study published in The Indian Journal of Orthopedics found that patients who receive sonography scans at the bedside spend an average of 50 fewer minutes under evaluation than patients transferred to the radiology department for imaging. Researchers also found that the cost of patients’ visits was significantly reduced.
The results of a Harvard study provide additional evidence of this, suggesting that POCUS offers the opportunity to cut costs for both the patient and the medical institution. The researchers note in their conclusion that “when physicians’ clinical expertise suggests that POCUS may be indicated, its use results in significant cost savings”—an average of $1,134 for privately insured patients and $2,826 for out‐of‐network or uninsured patients.
Not every patient will need imaging to evaluate their condition this December, but the number of patients who could benefit from bedside ultrasound is vast nonetheless. In addition to developmental dysplasia of the hip, which the study in The Indian Journal of Orthopedics tracked specifically, POCUS’s strengths include other musculoskeletal (MSK) and MSK soft tissue ailments, conditions of the heart, obstetrics and gynecology, and many more. The number of medical specialties benefitting from handheld ultrasound continues to grow as practitioners stretch the limits to find new, creative uses for the tool.
POCUS has become particularly significant in the MSK space due to its ability to visualize soft tissue tears at a high spatial resolution that cannot be seen on X-ray. It has also proved useful for imaging patients with pacemakers. Because most magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is contraindicated for patients with these implants, ultrasound is a helpful imaging alternative as it will not disrupt the pacing.
As POCUS’s popularity continues to grow, so does the trust of the medical professionals who utilize it. Institutions such as the American Heart Association have updated their guidelines to recommend using POCUS to manage certain conditions, including cardiac arrest.
When considering how to best care for their patients, healthcare providers often must put aside the bias of financial cost. At the end of the day, what matters most is performing examinations that will prove most beneficial to patients’ overall health. Where POCUS falls short, MRI or X-Ray may be the best course of action. But patients can rest easy this holiday season knowing that, as innovators find new ways to utilize bedside ultrasound, the tool will continue presenting time- and cost-effective solutions to those worried about unforeseen expenses.
Point-of-Care Ultrasound Certification Academy™ provides resources to those interested in the countless benefits of bedside ultrasound. Want to learn more? Check out their Learning Library for insight from POCUS experts across the medical community.