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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Identifying and Overcoming Barriers to Resident Use of Point-of-Care Ultrasound

  • Author(s): Schnittke, Nikolai
  • Damewood, Sara
  • et al.

Introduction: Emergency medicine residency programs have rigorous point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) curricula. However, this training does not always readily translate to routine use in clinical decision-making. This study sought to identify and overcome barriers that could prevent resident physicians from performing POCUS during clinical shifts.

Methods: This was a two-step process improvement study. First, a survey was deployed to all residents of a three-year academic residency program to identify barriers to clinical use of POCUS. This survey identified the perceived lack of a uniform documenting protocol as the most important barrier to performing POCUS on shift. Second, as an intervention to overcome this barrier, a streamlined documentation protocol was developed and presented to residents. The primary outcome was the number of patients who had POCUS used in medical decision-making one year before and after intervention. Secondary outcomes were the level of training of residents performing exams and whether faculty overseeing exams were trained through an ultrasound fellowship program.

Results: POCUS use by residents increased from 82 to 223 patients before and after the intervention, respectively. Per resident, this translates to an absolute increase from 2.2 (95% confidence intervall [CI], 1.4, 3) to 5.8 (95% CI, 4, 7.6) or 3.6 (95% CI, 1.8, 5.4) exams/resident over the study period. We observed no significant difference in the proportions of scans attributable to the resident level of training (χ2 = 0.5, p = 0.47). The proportion of exams by non-ultrasound fellowship trained faculty increased significantly more compared to fellowship trained faculty (χ2 = 19, p<0.0001); however, both ultrasound fellowship trained and non-ultrasound fellowship trained faculty increased the absolute number of exams performed.

Conclusion: A key perceived barrier to resident-performed POCUS is unfamiliarity with documenting ultrasounds for medical decision-making. Educating residents in person about a POCUS documentation protocol may help overcome this barrier. Incorporating resident input and motivation into POCUS incentivization may increase utilization. Future studies in optimizing POCUS on shift will need to focus on streamlining documentation, addressing time constraints, and faculty support for resident-performed POCUS.

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