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The complexity of diagnosis for critically ill dyspnea presentations in the emergency department remains a challenge. Accurate and rapid recognition of associated life-threatening conditions is paramount for timely treatment. Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has been shown to impact the diagnosis of dyspnea presentations in resource-rich settings, and may be of greater diagnostic benefit in resource-limited settings.
We prospectively enrolled a convenience sample of 100 patients presenting with dyspnea in the Emergency Department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (UTH-K) in Rwanda. After a traditional history and physical exam, the primary treating team listed their 3 main diagnoses and ranked their confidence accuracy in the leading diagnosis on a Likert scale (1–5). Multi-organ ultrasound scans performed by a separate physician sonographer assessed the heart, lungs, inferior vena cava, and evaluated for lower extremity deep vein thrombosis or features of disseminated tuberculosis. The sonographer reviewed the findings with the treating team, who then listed 3 diagnoses post-ultrasound and ranked their confidence accuracy in the leading diagnosis on a Likert scale (1–5). The hospital diagnosis at discharge was used as the standard in determining the accuracy of the pre- and post-ultrasound diagnoses.
Of the 99 patients included in analysis, 57.6% (n = 57) were male, with a mean age of 45 years. Most of them had high-level acuity (54.5%), the dyspnea was of acute onset (45.5%) and they came from district hospitals (50.5%). The most frequent discharge diagnoses were acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF) (26.3%) and pneumonia (21.2%). Ultrasound changed the leading diagnosis in 66% of cases. The diagnostic accuracy for ADHF increased from 53.8 to 100% (p = 0.0004), from 38 to 85.7% for pneumonia (p = 0.0015), from 14.2 to 85.7% for extrapulmonary tuberculosis (p = 0.0075), respectively, pre and post-ultrasound. The overall physician diagnostic accuracy increased from 34.7 to 88.8% pre and post- ultrasound. The clinician confidence in the leading diagnosis changed from a mean of 3.5 to a mean of 4.7 (Likert scale 0–5) (p < 0.001).
In dyspneic patients presenting to this Emergency Department, ultrasound frequently changed the leading diagnosis, significantly increased clinicians’ confidence in the leading diagnoses, and improved diagnostic accuracy.