The FAST exam is the prototypical application of emergency ultrasound. However, it is important to know that there are limited randomized controlled trials assessing the utility of the FAST exam. Despite this, let’s look at three good articles that  all emergency residents should know.

1. In this Cochrane review, the authors’ conclusion was that there was insufficient evidence for the use of ultrasound-based clinical pathways in the initial diagnostic workup of patients with blunt abdominal trauma. Ultrasound was not sensitive and lacked diagnostic accuracy. However, the use of ultrasound did reduce the use of CT scans. The take-home message is that ultrasound should not be used as a single rule-out test for significant intra-abdominal injury and the ED resident should be aware of ultrasound’s limitations.

Stengel D, Bauwens K, Sehouli J, Rademacher G, Mutze S, Ekkernkamp A, Porzsolt F. Emergency ultrasound-based algorithms for diagnosing blunt abdominal trauma (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration. February 18th, 2008.

2. Interestingly, this review used the same methodology as the Cochrane review and found that an adequately performed FAST exam can predict the need to send a patient to the operating room, with a high degree of sensitivity (98.9%) and specificity (98.1%).

Melniker LA. The value of focused assessment with sonography in trauma examination for the need for operative intervention in blunt torso trauma: a rebuttal to “emergency ultrasound-based algorithms for diagnosing blunt abdominal trauma (review)”, from the Cochrane Collaboration. Critical Ultrasound Journal. 2009;1:73-84.

3. Thoracic ultrasound has become part of the standard assessment of the trauma patient. Ultrasound has been shown to be much more sensitive than CXR in the detection of pneumothorax when compared to CT as the gold standard. There are many studies proving this point and this is a good example.

Blaivas M, Lyon M, Duggal S. A prospective comparison of supine chest radiography and bedside ultrasound for the diagnosis of traumatic pneumothorax. Acad Emerg Med. Sep 2005;12(9):844-849