Radiologists Remain Primary POC Ultrasound Users, Study Shows

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Non-radiologist physicians have contributed to the widespread use of point-of-care (POC) ultrasound, but radiologists remain the primary users, according to a study in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

David C. Levin, MD, the study's lead author, cites a recent paper authored by Christopher L. Moore, M.D., and Joshua A. Copel, M.D and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In that paper, Moore and Copel indicate that miniaturization and a drop in costs have facilitated the growth of non-cardiac POC ultrasound by clinicians and that the concept of an "ultrasound stethoscope" is rapidly moving from the theoretical to a reality.

"The commentary by Moore and Copel raises the question of how widespread the use of non-cardiac ultrasound has become among non-radiologist physicians and how quickly such use is growing with the advent of hand-carried ultrasound devices,” Levin says. “We used a nationwide database to investigate these questions.”

For the study, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania determined the rate of utilization of non-cardiac ultrasound by reviewing Medicare Part B databases for 2004 to 2009. They discovered that between 2004 and 2009, there existed a 21% increase in the overall utilization rate of non-cardiac ultrasound.

POC ultrasound by non-radiologists amounted to 41% of all studies done in 2009, the research indicates, while radiologists performed 55% of these procedures. Multiple non-radiologic specialties are involved, but radiologists' involvement is far higher than that of any other single specialty, the researchers purport.

"The role of radiologists in non-cardiac ultrasound remains quite strong; however, progressive miniaturization of ultrasound equipment may change that,” Levin says. “As a result, utilization trends will require further watching and additional research in the coming years.”