Journal Club 11/29/21: Ethics of Humanitarian Work

POCUS in Resource-Limited Settings presented by Holly A. Farkosh

POCUS, or point-of-care ultrasound, is a focused exam performed and interpreted by an examiner usually at the bedside, that must answer a specific question (is there a pleural effusion, yes or no?). The diagnosis must also be 1) relevant to consecutive treatment decision-making and 2) easily and accurately recognizable by the physician applying the US without extensive training.

There are many advantages to using POCUS in a resource-limited setting, including but not limited to: 

– Portability; relatively inexpensive starting at $2000

– Limited access to other diagnostic imaging equipment (XR, CT, MRI–all of which require additional training to read and use/operate)

– Rapid, noninvasive

– No ionizing radiation exposure

– Improves success and safety of bedside procedures

– Can easily be repeated, quickly, and without increasing radiation exposure, especially if clinical status or physical exam findings change 

– Particularly cost-effective (in the United States) in pediatric appendicitis and trauma (found to have decreased time to OR, decreased CT scans in the pediatric population, shortened length of hospital stay)

Some of the disadvantages include:

– Requirement of formal training

– Issue of how to power/charge and reliable access to this

– Handheld US requires a smartphone

– Supplies (US gel)

– Upkeep and repair

– Image portability (inability to print or save images for patients to share with other healthcare providers)

– Ethical considerations? 

Tying it all Together: Ethical Considerations for POCUS in Resource-Limited Settings

– Cost-effectiveness: some resources are deemed too expensive

– Resource limitations and differences in standard of care between the United States and other countries 

– Practitioners who may be teaching US may have limited knowledge of practicing in resource-limited settings, or there may be discrepancies in both knowledge of using the technology/resources available as well as the common presenting diseases in that region

– Sustainability: in relation to implementing training programs– what happens after instructors leave? Requires adequate planning for system integration and ongoing supervision and skill maintenance

– Limited capacity and inconsistent availability of follow-up care; screening without available treatment

Discussion Questions:

  • What other ethical considerations are there to implementing POCUS in resource-limited settings?

       – Advantage: lack of need for significant infrastructure; skills can quickly be acquired; real-time video training/support between the United States and other countries

        – Limited support for continued supervision/continual mentorship on improving skills; sustainability of training programs

        – Potential costs of training

  • What to do when you come across findings not consistent with physical exam– how to advocate for further diagnostics/evaluation?
  • Using US for central lines: lack of US availability; no formal US training; need to teach how to use US, but also important to teach things such as sterile prep/technique

Why do we have a desire to work in Global Health? By Cody Ritz

Chapter nine from Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction aims to explore a few different answers to this complex question. It’s possible that many of our desires to work in Global EM stem from some of the moral frameworks or values systems presented in these pages. The chapter lays them out as such:

Depending on your own personal motivations, you may identify with one, many, or none of these moral frameworks or value systems. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and it barely scratches the surface of the many nuances included in each of these philosophies. While we could go to much greater lengths to wholly explore these schools of thought, I believe the greatest benefit in naming them is not solely for the purpose of categorization. Rather, by taking the time to compare these sources of motivation, we can equip ourselves with a vocabulary and mindset that helps give form to our innermost determinations. While this form develops, we can begin to understand the foundations of our own interest to work in not only global health but medicine at large. As we come to better understand ourselves, let us hope this allows us to better understand others as well.

Discussion Points:

  • With which of these frameworks/value systems do you identify personally? – One? Multiple? None of them at all? – and how has that framework informed your own perspective and approach to global health?
  • Imagine that you’re in an interview for a position you want in the future and the interviewer asks—Why do you have these interests in global health when there is already great need within your own backyard?— How do you respond? In what ways could you explain your motivations within the frameworks discussed in this chapter?

Wrap up!

As you can imagine, our mentees had a wonderful discussion surrounding these three topics! We are thrilled to be able to present a brief summary of their work here. Please stay tuned for details about our upcoming meetings.  Connect with us through one of our contact options listed below if you are interested in attending!

Thank you to our authors and presenters!

Holly Farkosh, MS4

Holly Farkosh, MS4

Marshall University School of Medicine

Cody Ritz, MS2

Cody Ritz, MS2

Drexel University College of Medicine

Keep in Touch:

Cite this article as: Global EM Student Leadership Program, "Journal Club 11/29/21: Ethics of Humanitarian Work," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 6, 2022, https://iem-student.org/2022/04/06/journal-club-11-29-21-ethics-of-humanitarian-work/, date accessed: May 29, 2022

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