Objective: To determine the contribution of goal-directed right upper quadrant (RUQ) ultrasonography (US) on real-time decision-making of attending emergency physicians by evaluating their level of certainty for admission, surgery, medical treatment, additional laboratory and radiological investigations and discharge.
Methods: The study was conducted at an urban university tertiary care emergency department with an annual census of 60 000 adult patients. Patients with acute non-traumatic RUQ pain presenting to the emergency department during the 8-month study period were enrolled into the study. Primary outcome measures were level of certainty for admission to the hospital, emergency surgery, medical treatment, additional laboratory and radiological analyses and discharge from the emergency department.
Results: There was a significant difference between the pre-US and post-US certainty of the decision to perform additional diagnostic studies (56 vs 72, p = 0.01) but not in the other outcomes (treatment, admission, surgery and discharge). After categorising the physicians’ decisions into low, intermediate and high, US had an effect on all primary outcomes and on all categories. This effect was most evident in the moderate category where the physicians were undecided for all primary outcomes.
Conclusion: US performed by emergency department physicians affects the certainty of their decisions in patients presenting with RUQ pain. This effect is more evident on the decision to perform additional diagnostic studies and in patients about whom physicians are undecided.
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