Toronto's Sick Kids finds new uses for ultrasound in its emergency room

Doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children have begun using portable ultrasound machines to diagnose children in its emergency room.

Toronto's Sick Children's Hospital is training doctors in the use of the technology.

Doctors say portable ultrasound is an useful tool in pediatric emergency medicine, especially when patients may be too young to say what's wrong. (Ryan Pilon/CBC News)

Doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children have begun employing an old technology in a new way —  using portable ultrasound machines to diagnose children in its emergency room.

Ultrasound machines, which have become smaller and lighter, mean more accurate pinpointing of medical problems, with no unnecessary tests and faster treatment.

"We can take a look at the organs that we suspect are involved, instead of just listening to them. That makes us dramatically more accurate and safer and more efficient," said Dr. Mark Tessaro, a staff physician at Sick Kids.

"We get much more accurate information faster," said Tessaro, who added that the units are "vital" in pediatric emergency medicine. They're pain free, take only a few seconds, are cost effective, with no exposure to radiation and the technology narrows the diagnosis quickly. And it's very helpful when patients are too young to say what's wrong.

For example, in January, Tessaro examined an eight-year-old girl who was complaining of stomach pain and vomiting. The portable ultrasound machine showed that she had a large cyst on one of her ovaries, it had twisted and there was no blood flow to the ovary.

"That's something nobody would have thought of, as she sat and waited in the emergency room, with the underlying dangerous diagnosis."

Sari Diamond and Hannah, her 12-year-old daughter, said they have experienced the benefits of the machine first hand. Paramedics rushed Hannah to the hospital when her fever reached more than 40 degrees Celsius.

'Immediate relief'

"It was just immediate relief that we didn't have to wait. We didn't have to expose her to radiation, she didn't have to go for an x-ray," she said.

Doctors say the portable ultrasound is also useful when treating very young children,

Dr. Charisse Kwan, also a pediatric emergency physician at the hospital, said it sometimes gets the children to talk.

"They actually love looking at their organs and that's sometimes a point of communication with them, or a point to bring them out of their shell," she said.

"It's an old technology that's being used differently now."

Tessaro says the portability of the technology makes it very useful to emergency room doctors, especially when checking for complex medical problems. It can be brought right to the bedside. He said learning how to use it is essential.

The hospital is now training all of its emergency doctors in how to use 'point-of-care ultrasound.' It also has been training other doctors in the city how to use the emergency diagnostic tool in pediatrics.

"Getting everyone trained in this is the next basic step that all physicians are going to get better at," Tessaro said. 


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