Making Sense of AIUM Guidelines
Connie Ambrecht RDMS, Executive Director Equip Leaders Now/Sonography Now
Beverly Anderson, J.D., CEO Dove Medical
Susan Dammann RN LASm Medical Specialist
In April 2014, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) sent an email to its members stating it had "Updated Guidelines and Official Statements." Included in the list was the guideline titled "Documentation of an Ultrasound Examination."
First, it is valuable to revisit who AIUM is, as well as its role in ultrasound imaging. In its own words, "the AIUM is an association dedicated to advancing the safe and effective use of ultrasound in medicine through professional and public education, research, development of guidelines, and accreditation."
In the first section of the guidelines, AIUM outlines what it considers high-quality patient care. The guidelines state a permanent record should always be kept of the images, and an interpretation should be provided for patient records. All medical professionals involved should be able to communicate well and work as a team to provide what is expected: quality patient care.
The next section lists what should be included in the official report. In some clinical settings, the interpretation of the images is transcribed and a separate report page is generated for the patients chart. In the PMC setting it is common that a signature is obtained on the ultrasound report page and serves as the final report.
Section three discusses the final report from the interpreting physician or medical director of the clinic. According to this April 2014 update, the final report should be generated in 24 hours. I know you are thinking or asking... "How can we do that?!"
We restate the following from the AIUM guideline: Practice guidelines of the AIUM are intended to provide the medical ultrasound community with guidelines for the performance and recording of high-quality ultrasound examinations. The guidelines reflect what the AIUM considers the minimum criteria for a complete examination in each area but are not intended to establish a legal standard of care.
This AIUM Guideline is NOT a legal requirement. It is a national practice standard.
We at Sonography Now live in the service trenches with you as we train on-site. We understand that getting interpretations in a timely fashion versus every 24 hours can seem unnecessary. Taking one step at a time can ease such a transition. If you want to make changes to accommodate a faster interpretation time, it doesn't need to change immediately.
Building a plan of action can remedy the feeling of urgency. Some clinics we work with have images interpreted daily so that the final report can be given to the patient. You have the freedom to choose your course of action based on your mission and vision.
Concerning our routine ultrasound report procedure, we need to answer the questions:
- Do they jeopardize patient safety?
- Are they legally defensible?
- Would they put our reputation at risk if widely known?
Our patients feel an urgency to have definitive information about their pregnancy. They need their confirmed diagnosis, not the nurse's preliminary findings.
My nightmare concerning delays in the physician reading Dove Medical's ultrasound exams is that our nurse will miss an ectopic pregnancy the physician would have caught, the patient will not have received the appropriate instructions and/or referral for immediate care, and the patient will suffer injury as a result. I strive to insure both the skill level of our nurses and also the prompt reading of all exams.
Should We or Shouldn't We?
While some Medical Directors feel it would be consistent with the highest level of care which we strive for, that these standards should be recommended/set and then the center should work toward them, other Medical Directors who have discussed the issue feel strongly that we do not need to comply with the 24 hour mandate and that it would be impossible for most centers to do so.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
We must remember that our Medical Directors are volunteering their services. If pressure is put upon them to comply with this standard, are we risking losing them as a Medical Director? If that scenario is a high probability, we must ask "How is this patient best served?" What do we tell the patient?
We can't do the sonogram because we can't turn the report around in 24 hours? Is a longer turn around period better for the patient than having no service at all? Also it is critical that we not alienate our Medical Directors who are sacrificing their time and skills to serve the patients in our clinic. Without them, we cannot offer ultrasound services at all.
If we set this as policy because it meets national standards but we cannot comply, what are the consequences? Is it better to adopt a policy set on the highest excellence we are feasibly able to provide so that we can continue serving our patients, rather than potentially losing our medical director or other consequences which would impede serving the patient? Then as we can, going forward, do what is possible to shorten the turn-around time.
Centers should make efforts to have ultrasound reports read, signed and returned within the shortest time frame that is reasonably feasible. Any scans with questionable findings of concern or emergency problems should be referred promptly to a physician or hospital emergency room. This policy should be made known to the patient on the intake form.
You may want to consider the following options, among others, as means to improve your turn-around time. This is only a sampling of options and not a recommendation of any specific option.
- Use Doc-U-Sign as a mechanism to transmit scans via internet with appropriate safeguards for patient identity.
- Both E-Kyros (www.ekyros.com) and WayCool (www.waycoolsw.com) have options available for uploading and securing the physicians signature.You may contact these businesses for more information.
- Some centers are using an encrypted cloud-based means of submitting their ultrasound reports to their physician or radiologist for review and signature.
- E-mailing the reports to the Medical Director using only a client number.
- Some ultrasound machines have a software program already installed that is capable of electronic transfer.
- Logmein is being used by some centers. This allows the Medical Director or Radiologist to log in to your computer via remote access from anywhere to sign reports. This requires transferring the images from your machine to your computer and either typing the report or scanning it in.
- Some centers upload scans to a memory stick, transfer them to the computer and use High Tail to send the ultrasound and reports to the Medical Director.
Consideration for Your Center
Inform your Medical Director of the recommendation by the AIUM and have a conversation with them. Let him/her know that it is a practice standard, not law. Discuss the best and most feasible policy for your center. Examine your current policy and practice – how well is that working? Does it meet the goal for the best service your clinic can provide for the patient? Look at and discuss some of the options for improving the turn-around time. Are there any steps you feel you should take at this time? Set a time to re-examine and evaluate.
General Ultrasound Checkup
The AIUM Official Statement concerning Limited Obstetric Ultrasound (LOU), reaffirmed on 4/2/2014, makes some clear statements about the services we provide. I am reminded again that we must see ourselves as competent medical professionals and our services as medical diagnosis. Points of emphasis in the AIUM Official Statement include:
- "A limited obstetric ultrasound examination is performed to answer a specific, acute clinical question." In our clinical setting a standard sonogram is unnecessary. Our clinical question is "Is there a viable pregnancy?"
- "Clinical judgment should be used to determine the proper type of ultrasound examination to perform." This is why we don't perform a LOU if the patient is bleeding or cramping. It is no longer clinically appropriate. We need to be absolutely clear in our messaging and in the statements made by staff that an ultrasound exam is performed only when clinically indicated. At Dove Medical, we no longer allow patients to schedule an appointment for an ultrasound. Our nurse offers an ultrasound when indicated and will schedule the exam for a later date if necessary. The patient can refuse an ultrasound, but she cannot demand one.
- "Lack of qualification or inexperience of the sonographer/sonologist does not justify performance of a limited ultrasound examination when a standard examination is indicated." Our nurses must tell the patient we obtain only three pieces of information because that is how we answer the specific clinical question before us. This means our RNs don't tell patients that they aren't trained to do [fill in the blank – patient questions we've gotten include "Is everything all right?" "Is it a boy or girl?" etc.]
- "Obstetric ultrasound examinations are not performed for entertainment or for sex determination in the absence of an accepted clinical indication." At PMCs, we perform the LOU to make a pregnancy diagnosis and for no other purpose.
- "When a patient undergoes a limited ultrasound examination, it is important that she understands why a limited scan is being done and that she has appropriate expectations regarding the information sought." Again, we must clearly understand the clinical reason we scan, so that our messaging to our patients emphasizes our scope of practice. Our consent form must have a statement about the limited exam to determine only three pieces of information (location of pregnancy, heartbeat, gestational age) for the purpose of diagnosing pregnancy because that is our limited scope of clinical practice and the patient must sign that she understands this.
As an education organization Equip Leaders Now and Sonography Now have responsibility to keep ourselves informed of changes that may impact your specialized clinical setting. Our role is to pass information along and let you decide how it fits in your clinic. At Sonography Now, our mission is to provide education related to imaging, at Equip Leaders Now, our mission is to build leaders by providing the tools needed to make informed decisions to build strong communities. In doing this we have an obligation to give you information so you can be empowered with the information to form your own talking points and messaging so you can be represented well in your community and to the patients you serve.
Contact Connie Ambrecht or Beverly Anderson at 702-925-8737 with any questions or for a private webinar for your team on this topic.