Ultrasound on a Smartphone?
An ultrasound machine is as essential to care as a stethoscope. Yet it is not portable and can cost up to $200,000.
Enter POCUS (Point of Care Ultrasound). This small, handheld probe allows doctors to see ultrasound scans on a tablet or cellphone. In November 2021, the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah became one of only four medical schools in the U.S. with these devices. The school gave one to every medical student.
Here’s how the portable ultrasound systems are impacting our training and, ultimately, our careers.
POCUS Creates Eye-Opening Education
We take our devices everywhere. Their portability allows us to see pathologies we wouldn’t have access to in a classroom.
For example, Celeste has a family member with a bicuspid aortic valve. She used the POCUS device to see what it looked like.
In class, we saw a heart that sat lower in the body, near the diaphragm. With our POCUS devices, we could see and discuss how anatomy can vary from person to person. It was essential to see how the heart sits in the body after talking about its anatomy—a light bulb moment in transitioning our knowledge from the classroom to the clinic.
The Department of Emergency Medicine created and manages the ultrasound training curriculum. It continues through all four years of medical school. In a way, it’s set up to be a safe space for medical students to be “bad” at ultrasound. That kind of learning opportunity is unique in medical education.
Ultrasound Knowledge Means Improved Care
POCUS training turns a massive device with millions of buttons into something even a patient can hold. They can see it and be a part of it. Seeing an ultrasound image live on a tablet or smartphone can break down fears patients might have about the technology.
POCUS devices can especially help improve care quality in resource-limited areas.
Kenya, for instance, deployed 1,000 of these devices to doctors and midwives. Before the devices, women would travel miles for a prenatal ultrasound. Some would never receive one. Now, women can see if they have twins before they give birth.
Rural communities in Utah’s west desert, the Four Corners region, and the Uinta Basin would benefit significantly from POCUS. Many people in these communities drive hours to get ultrasounds. POCUS saves patients time, money, and stress. These are goals we should be focusing on as caregivers.
POCUS Creates Opportunities for Community Outreach
We recently visited an elementary school where we showed students the POCUS devices. When they saw their scans, their eyes widened. It was another layer of anatomy. Their textbooks came to life.
Seeing a live image of a real human heart is fascinating for young students. It invigorates the idea that medicine is fun and interesting rather than scary.
We hope to take POCUS workshops to more schools in Utah, including schools in rural and underserved areas. Showing kids portable ultrasound technology gives them a unique experience. Plus, it shows them how exciting and accessible a medical career can be.
POCUS Accelerates Learning
Before POCUS, our first ultrasound training took place in a classroom. There were three machines and 60 students. For care so essential, learning about it was intimidating. We wondered if we could ever master those complicated machines.
After receiving the POCUS devices, some of that stress evaporated. Learning—not just about ultrasound, but also about medicine—became so much easier, and even more fun.
Being part of the POCUS program at the U is a privilege. We get to see in real-time the difference it makes to our education, both in the classroom and in patient care settings. We have no doubt this opportunity will make us better doctors one day. We hope our experience demonstrates the value of this kind of training for all medical students.
Funding for the POCUS program is made possible by a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Brooklyn Delmont is a second-year medical student at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine and a co-outreach coordinator for the ultrasound program. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 2010, Brooklyn earned her level-one Sommelier certification and became a mom of three. Choosing to pursue medicine, Brooklyn worked for the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and Alta Management Solutions for several years before starting medical school.
Celeste “Cici” Moreland graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Spanish. She is a second-year medical student at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. She is a part of two pathways: The Global Health Certificate Pathway and the Students as Teachers Longitudinal Pathway. In addition, Celeste was a teaching assistant in the Foundational Science course for first-year medical students and a co-outreach coordinator for the ultrasound program.