Carilion Clinic Partners with Regional EMS Teams for Ultrasound Research

Respiratory distress is one of the leading causes of EMS activation nationally.

Now providers from Carilion Clinic and first responders in Botetourt County, the City of Roanoke and the City of Salem are teaming up in a study to determine if ultrasound tools can help to diagnose respiratory distress more accurately during local emergency response calls. In addition to local EMS partners, Carilion’s Life-Guard crews are also participating in the study.

There are many potential causes for breathing difficulties. Currently, EMS providers use a standard assessment including medical history, a stethoscope and checking oxygen levels to determine the best treatment on the scene of the emergency.

“There are certain causes of respiratory distress such as pneumonia, however, that may better be detected using bedside lung ultrasound technology,” said Carol Bernier, MD, Carilion Emergency Medicine physician and primary investigator for the study. “By working with our EMS partners, we hope to explore the application of that technology in the first response setting.”

With support from Carilion’s Research Acceleration Program, nine ultrasounds were purchased as tools for local EMS providers because some studies have shown that the ultrasound technology can determine lung distress with 90% accuracy.

“Respiratory distress is one of the most frequent calls that we respond to, accounting for around 10% of our activations,” said Jason Ferguson, Chief of Botetourt Fire & EMS. “We are excited for the opportunity to participate with our City of Roanoke and Salem peers in this research, ultimately helping us to best serve our communities and aid in respiratory distress response.”

The goal of this study is to provide a diagnostic tool for prehospital advanced life support providers to better identify the cause for a patient’s shortness of breath, aiding in prompt diagnosis and better treatment prior to the patient getting to the hospital. To do this, the research will investigate if paramedics are able to successfully use the ultrasound image of the lung while in the field after going through a short educational course.

Researchers started obtaining ultrasound scans in October 2021, and the study will conclude once 200 ultrasound scans are collected: 100 scans from respiratory patients and 100 from control group patients.

“Through this study, we are interested in the potential benefits of patients having access to this level of technology before they even arrive at the hospital,” said Harrison Brookeman, EMT-I, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Class of 2022. “Nationally, this tool has proven beneficial for EMS agencies, and we are excited to study its application locally in our communities.”

To learn more about Carilion’s Research and Development work, visit