“Point-of-care ultrasound” diagnosis of pneumonia (Article)

Pneumonia is still a fairly common type of infection in children.  In fact, it is the leading cause of death for children worldwide, killing 1.2 million children under the age of 5 years annually: that’s more the number of children succumbing to AIDS, malaria and TB combined!  Historically, doctors have relied on an ancient low-tech instrument to diagnose a lung infection, the stethoscope.  Listening to the sound of air moving through a lung is cheap and modestly accurate, but certainly not the ideal diagnostic tool to detect a serious lung infection.  X-ray has been the tool of choice, being more accurate than the lowly stethoscope. Unfortunately, while accurate, X-ray requires an X-ray technician, expensive equipment, photo processing equipment or digital scanning equipment, and an experienced physician to interpret the results. 75% of the world does not have access to these things. Clearly, sick children would benefit from a tool that is combines inexpensive, accurate, readily available, and easy to interpret in terms of results.

The researchers at NYU School of Medicine may have solved the pneumonia diagnosis problem dilemma when they discovered a tool that seems to make diagnosis of pneumonia much easier and safer. Their recent research demonstrates that ultrasound is easy to tool to use, highly sensitive (92%) and specific (97%) in diagnosing a lung infection and best of all, involves no damaging radiation like X-rays. They call this new tool “Point-of-care ultrasound” because they foresee most primary care doctors to be able to do their own testing and interpretation, even detecting pneumonias as small as one centimeter.

I don’t think you are going to see stethoscopes disappear from your doctor’s pocket anytime soon but I do expect that you will see him or her using an ultrasound probe far more often and X-ray far less often.  Ultrasound has revolutionized the practice of obstetrics in the past 25 years, and seems poised to do the same for other medical specialties.  Maybe the next time your little one has a fever and a bad cough, your child’s pediatrician will whip out their “point-of-care ultrasound”, and you will say, I read about that!

Your comments are welcome.  Feel free to share something you find interesting with friends and family: it’s easy.  Until next time.


Smo notes:


Written collaboratively by Catherine Wu and Paul Smolen MD