Will the pandemic push point-of-care ultrasound to replace the stethoscope?

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a number of changes to everyday life, and one doctor believes its next target may be the stethoscope.

Larry Istrail, MD, a hospitalist physician at Inova Health System, recently argued in STAT for point-of-care ultrasound to replace the device commonly draped proudly over a clinician’s white coat.

The handheld mechanism, which relies on high-frequency sound waves, allows clinicians to look inside the body in real-time, rather than relying on the (often) old ears of a physician, Istrail argued Wednesday.

A basic system costs between $2,000 and $50,000, compared to a $400 top of the line stethoscope, which is a clear short-term barrier to adoption, he noted. But POCUS can be learned with little training, and the modality has proved invaluable for evaluating patients’ lungs during the pandemic. It’s also more sensitive than chest x-ray and limits healthcare workers’ exposure.

Medicine’s tradition should be learned and respected, Istrail argued, but ultrasound can take the subjectivity out of patient diagnosis and usher in a new “epoch” in healthcare.

“I believe that given the remarkable diagnostic accuracy of point-of-care ultrasound, every patient presenting to a clinic or hospital should have a focused ultrasound to augment their clinician’s physical exam findings,” Istrail noted. “There is just no excuse not to.”

Read the entire opinion piece below.

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