In the same fashion that the echocardiogram helped transform the cardiac exam, recent developments in the field of portable ultrasound are providing cardiologists with a new way to visualize the heart at the initial patient screening. Cardiologists can now take a quick look inside of the body in real time to help assess and address some of the challenges that they had previously struggled with at first contact. The convenience portable ultrasound has provided to both doctor and patient has given cardiologists the ability to visualize the pathology and help assess diseases of the heart valves earlier. Now, technology provided in portable echo can help accelerate treatment decisions.
A key component and justification behind this new trend in cardiac care can be attributed to the accessibility that portable ultrasound provides. A pocket-sized visualization tool that has been particularly useful in many practices and hospitals is the GE Vscan. Released earlier this year, Vscan is roughly the size of a smart phone, fitting right into the operator’s coat pocket. The tool, although small in size, delivers excellent image quality efficiently, directly in the examining room or the outpatient clinic.
We found portable echocardiography useful in following patients with pericardial effusion due to post-operative pericarditis. While most often a self-limiting condition requires little more than anti-inflammatory/analgesic treatment, such pericardial reaction on occasion will be a source of considerable morbidity and concern. We found Vscan useful as a bedside tool in this setting. The ability to give the patient and the referring physician immediate feedback was very gratifying.
Portable ultrasound technology can help diagnose a wide spectrum of cardiac conditions and is well suited to help assess cardiac LV function, with its prognostic and diagnostic value, especially in coronary artery disease. Additionally, tools like Vscan allow cardiologists to assess valvular function, blood flow velocities and visualize intracardiac shunts.
Among other functions, Vscan has proved to be a valuable teaching tool. Students appreciate the ability to correlate auscultatory and clinical signs with echocardiographic findings at bedside. This very effective technique can enhance their learning experience.
The interest in Vscan and other portable ultrasound tools does not end at the doctor’s fingertips. In our clinic, Vscan has helped to make our patient’s initial exam more educational and interactive. While most patients are familiar with traditional ultrasound as a concept, they have appreciated the quick feedback that portable ultrasound at point of care has allowed us to give. They tend to appreciate the reassuring aspect of their initial cardiac exam, even if they still have to undergo a full echocardiographic assessment at some later time.
Editor’s note: Andrew Zawadowski, M.D., FRCPC, FACC, FESC, FAHA is assistant clinical professor of medicine, division of cardiology at McMaster University. He is the physician leader of Oakville, Ontario-based Core Cardiology Services, a diagnostic and treatment facility.