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The Value of a Surgical Assessment Unit Ultrasound Facility

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      Ultrasound scan (USS) is a common and important mode of investigation for emergency surgical admissions. Delay in investigation often leads to delayed diagnosis and treatment, and possible extended length of stay (LOS), which has clinical, cost and service provision implications. We aim to investigate the clinical impact on patient care and the cost-effectiveness of a pilot Surgical Assessment Unit (SAU) USS facility. We performed a retrospective data collection on 100 consecutive SAU inpatients who had an USS investigation on the ward since the introduction of the facility, matched by 100 consecutive SAU inpatients who had an USS in the radiology department before the pilot study. Results of the audit show SAU USS has a reduced mean LOS by 1.44 days compared to departmental USS, and led to more same day discharge than departmental USS (20 vs. 5), thus avoiding unnecessary overnight stay. It also significantly reduced mean waiting time from admission to investigation by 5.21 hours, which can be translated into improved patient and staff satisfaction. All these findings are both statistically and clinically significant. The estimated cost of each SAU USS is comparable to the average departmental USS (£29.71 vs. £30.80). Using the average cost of an excess bed day = £273, SAU USS has produced an estimated saving of £394.72/patient. This does not include saved opportunistic costs such as prevented elective operation cancellations, fines incurred from surgery waiting time/A+E breaches etc. To conclude SAU USS has a significant positive impact on patient care in surgical admissions by reducing LOS and investigation waiting time, as well as facilitating same day discharge.

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      The role of US examination in the management of acute abdomen

      Acute abdomen is a medical emergency, in which there is sudden and severe pain in abdomen of recent onset with accompanying signs and symptoms that focus on an abdominal involvement. It can represent a wide spectrum of conditions, ranging from a benign and self-limiting disease to a surgical emergency. Nevertheless, only one quarter of patients who have previously been classified with an acute abdomen actually receive surgical treatment, so the clinical dilemma is if the patients need surgical treatment or not and, furthermore, in which cases the surgical option needs to be urgently adopted. Due to this reason a thorough and logical approach to the diagnosis of abdominal pain is necessary. Some Authors assert that the location of pain is a useful starting point and will guide a further evaluation. However some causes are more frequent in the paediatric population (like appendicitis or adenomesenteritis) or are strictly related to the gender (i.e. gynaechologic causes). It is also important to consider special populations such as the elderly or oncologic patients, who may present with atypical symptoms of a disease. These considerations also reflect a different diagnostic approach. Today, surely the integrated imaging, and in particular the use of multidetector Computed Tomography (MDCT) has revolutionised the clinical approach to this condition, simplyfing the diagnosis but burdening the radiologists with the problems related to the clinical management. However although CT emerging as a modality of choice for evaluation of the acute abdomen, ultrasonography (US) remains the primary imaging technique in the majority of cases, especially in young and female patients, when the limitation of the radiation exposure should be mandatory, limiting the use of CT in cases of nondiagnostic US and in all cases where there is a discrepancy between the clinical symptoms and negative imaging at US.

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        Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust
        Author notes
        [Correspondence to ] Wesley Lai wesley_lai@
        BMJ Qual Improv Rep
        BMJ Qual Improv Rep
        BMJ Quality Improvement Reports
        British Publishing Group
        27 April 2017
        : 6
        : 1
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        BMJ Quality Improvement Programme


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