What is POCUS (Point-of-Care Ultrasound)?

Floating Doctors with patient on floor

The phrase “point-of-care ultrasound” can refer to two related things:

  1. The practice of trained medical professionals using ultrasound to diagnose problems wherever a patient is being treated (i.e. on a stretcher or bed, on the ground, in an ambulance or helicopter).
  2. Ultrasound equipment that is designed with all the traditional functions, yet is durable and can logistically fit in these non-traditional treatment areas.

As portable ultrasound machines were introduced to the commercial market over the last 15 plus years, it has enabled providers to broaden their use of ultrasound beyond scheduled appointments to encompass new situations, like diagnosing internal bleeding in the emergency room versus having to perform a “blind” paracentisus and risking patient injury. It also enabled expanded use of ultrasound guidance allowing hospitals to address human errors that could cause catheter-associated bloodstream infections and iatrogenix pneumothorax; in fact, some hospitals have been able to eliminate iatrogenix pneumothorax and CLABSI incidences using POCUS.

Many medical specialties now include training in ultrasound procedures in their residency and fellowship programs allowing physicians to perform real-time ultrasound exams in their offices, diagnosing the patient’s condition sooner allowing treatment.

Bedside Ultrasound versus POCUS

What’s the difference between “point-of-care ultrasound” and “bedside ultrasound”? The two terms are closely related, but there is a slight difference between the two.

“Bedside ultrasound” is an older term that describes one possible use of portable ultrasound machines: the sonographic assessment of patients, usually in a medical facility, at the patient’s bedside. The term acknowledges the use of portable ultrasound, so that a patient is not inconvenienced by the need to physically move to a radiology suite to be scanned.

“Point-of-care ultrasound” is a broader term that encapsulates the many scenarios in which portable ultrasound machines can be used. For instance, a patient may be scanned using portable ultrasound while in an ambulance on the way to an emergency room. Or a patient may be scanned in the trauma bay after being delivered to the hospital emergency room. As such, “point-of-care ultrasound” indicates that portable ultrasound can be transported to wherever the patient is located.