King’s College Hospital has become the first hospital in the country to trial the use of portable ultrasound devices alongside the traditional stethoscope when teaching medical students.
The stethoscope is the standard diagnostic tool in medicine. Until now, medics have used it to make an initial judgement but in many cases other tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, are required to finalise a diagnosis. This extra testing increases the time it takes to treat patients, and can expose them to unnecessary radiation.
Undergraduates at the south London hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) are now learning the importance of combining sounds and images when making a diagnosis. Although medics have been using large ultrasound machines for many years, this is the first time handheld devices have been issued to medical students to support their clinical assessments.
Under the supervision of a consultant, the handheld devices are helping students to diagnose a range of serious conditions including abnormal fluid in the chest, bleeding in the abdomen and undiagnosed heart conditions. Portable ultrasound is also helping improve the accuracy of medical procedures such as drip insertions.
Dr Mamoun Abu-Habsa, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at King’s College Hospital, who is leading on the pilot said, “Portable ultrasound is the diagnostic tool of the future. When a patient is very unwell, being able to see as well as hear what’s happening aids a physician’s ability to make an accurate and speedy diagnosis. Evidence shows the earlier you can diagnose and administer treatment, the better the outcome for the patient.”
The ultrasound devices, which are being trialled for three-months, are proving to be a valuable learning tool. Aminah Ahmad, a fourth-year medical student at King’s College London, said, “I am developing skills that other students don't get any exposure to at this stage. Using the ultrasound device enables me to see what is happening inside the patient's body to help build a picture of what is happening to them. It is improving my confidence and I know that I will take these skills forward as a doctor - it is great that I have been able to start so early.”
There has already been speculation as to whether the days of the stethoscope – synonymous with the medical profession – are numbered.
Dr Abu-Habsa added, “The stethoscope is a valuable tool to a physician. Although it won’t become entirely redundant, we need to combine its use with emerging technology so we are using the most efficient tools, fit for modern-day medicine.
“When teaching the next generation of doctors, it’s vital that we embed innovative diagnostic skills right from the start so they can be developed over the course of a doctor’s training and utilised throughout their career.”