Point-of-Care Ultrasonography (POCUS) in a Community Emergency Department: An Analysis of Decision Making and Cost Savings Associated With POCUS

OBJECTIVES Point-of-care ultrasonography (POCUS) is an increasingly integral part of emergency medicine. This study investigated community emergency department physicians' choices regarding ultrasonography as a branch point in clinical decision making.
METHODS During shifts covering all days of the week and all time-spans over a 3-month period, emergency department physicians were interviewed whenever POCUS was used. Questions focused on the role of POCUS in clinical management and on tests avoided because of ultrasonography use. Cost savings attributable to POCUS were calculated using Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and FairHealth data. Anonymization of data precluded follow-up testing to account for misdiagnosis.
RESULTS On average, POCUS use eliminated $1134.31 of additional testing for privately insured patients, $2826.31 for out-of-network or uninsured patients, and $181.63 for Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services patients. Differences were significant when the total cost of eliminated additional testing was compared to a baseline of no savings (p < .001). Aggregate cost savings remained significant when analyses were broadened to include POCUS encounters that did not yield changes in management (p < .001).
CONCLUSIONS When physicians' clinical expertise suggests that POCUS may be indicated, its use results in significant cost savings, even in encounters in which management is not directly impacted. POCUS, when incorporated earlier and more frequently into community hospital emergency medicine diagnostic protocols, can lower direct and indirect costs associated with diagnostic workups. Community emergency departments, in particular, would benefit from additional investigation informing specific guidelines for the integration of POCUS into clinical management and the role that this has in cost savings.

as reported in: J Ultrasound Med. 2018 Dec 28 [Epub ahead of print]