Lung ultrasound saves providers dozens of hours compared to CT for severe COVID management

Using lung ultrasound to manage critically ill COVID-19 patients can potentially save providers dozens of hours when compared to chest CT, experts charged Friday in Academic Radiology.

The modality is a well-established tool for assessing respiratory failure and particularly suited for pinpointing, grading and following up on lung involvement severity. It can serve as a cheaper and easier-to-learn alternative to CT, too, but is COVID ultrasound just adding an extra burden on those managing such patients?

Wanting to answer this question, Italian providers calculated the time needed to ultrasound image 25 critically ill coronavirus patients. They then weighed that against how long it’d take to prepare, transport, perform and return from a chest computed tomography scan.

Francesco Meroi and colleagues estimated a median time for 25 chest CT scans at 85 minutes. Utilizing lung ultrasound, however, would save nearly 81 minutes per person or 33.75 hours across 25 subjects.

“The use of LU has allowed us to monitor the progress of our COVID-19 patients with considerable time savings compared to traditional radiology,” Meroi, with the Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care at the University-Hospital of Udine, Italy, and colleagues wrote June 18. “Using LU instead of CT to monitor critically ill patients with COVID-19, can free staff to perform other duties,” they added later.

Repeat CT scans of such patients can be “impractical and unsafe.” Ultrasound offers a useful alternative, with the Udine hospital typically administering a daily topographic exam at the bedside. However, Meroi et al. emphasized that LU does not replace computed tomography, which is essential for excluding pulmonary or cardiovascular complication in worsening COVID cases.

You can read the rest of the research letter in Academic Radiology here.

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