PURPOSE: Ultrasound examinations are currently being implemented in general practice. This study aimed to systematically review the literature on the training in and use of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) by general practitioners.
METHODS: We followed the Cochrane guidelines for conduct and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines for reporting. We searched the databases MEDLINE (via PubMed), EMBASE, CINAHL, Web of Science, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials using the key words ultrasonography and general practice in combination and using thesaurus terms. Two reviewers independently screened articles for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed the quality of included studies using an established checklist.
RESULTS: We included in our review a total of 51 full-text articles. POCUS was applied for a variety of purposes, with the majority of scans focused on abdominal and obstetric indications. The length of training programs varied from 2 to 320 hours. Competence in some types of focused ultrasound scans could be attained with only few hours of training. Focused POCUS scans were reported to have a higher diagnostic accuracy and be associated with less harm than more comprehensive scans or screening scans. The included studies were of a low quality, however, mainly because of issues with design and reporting.
CONCLUSIONS: POCUS has the potential to be an important tool for the general practitioner and may possibly reduce health care costs. Future research should aim to assess the quality of ultrasound scans in broader groups of general practitioners, further explore how these clinicians should be trained, and evaluate the clinical course of patients who undergo scanning by general practitioners.