This comparative exercise has allowed us to identify fundamental elements that should be considered by those seeking to deliver a sustainable, educationally rich POCUS rotation.

Proposed model: the consultative service

All five programs structure their rotation as a consultative service, providing not only imaging findings, but also integrating findings into clinical recommendations. We see three main advantages to this model. First, it ensures that trainees acquire not only the skills of image acquisition and interpretation, but also learn the more complex skill of clinical integration. Clinical integration requires an understanding of test characteristics, indications, limitations, and scope of POCUS [14]; additionally, it requires the ability to incorporate POCUS findings into the broader picture of the complex medical inpatient with multiple comorbidities. This skill is essential for trainees to safely incorporate POCUS into their practice. Second, a consultative service allows for supervised training in POCUS-guided procedures, which, despite being a core competency for IM residents in Canada [15] is frequently difficult to obtain through existing clinical rotations [5, 7]. Third, an IM POCUS consultative service allows broader access to POCUS for IM patients, which has the potential to improve patient care. For these reasons, we recommend programs looking to offer a POCUS rotation to consider structuring it as a consultative service.

Inputs and resources to consider

The program planner must account for several important inputs when considering the feasibility of a POCUS rotation. These include human resources, access to archiving, and funding.

Human resources

Offering a quality POCUS rotation requires a highly motivated, highly trained POCUS workforce. All sites have at minimum one POCUS fellowship-trained internist and a minimum of two POCUS-capable attendings. Given the hands-on nature of the service, a strong preceptor presence is essential and current preceptors dedicate 25–50 hours per week to the service. Careful consideration should be given to available human resources when deciding whether a POCUS rotation is feasible. Depending on the number of POCUS-trained preceptors available, it may be prudent to only offer the rotation for a limited number of blocks to ensure adequate supervision.

As previously alluded to, two programs surveyed (British Columbia and Calgary) have GIM POCUS fellowship programs in place. The experienced POCUS fellow provides additional oversight and teaching for residents which significantly bolsters the ability to run a continuous, robust POCUS service. However, running a high-level POCUS fellowship has numerous additional demands beyond simply running a POCUS rotation, the details of which have been previously described [14].

Archiving

Although hospital-based archiving is not essential, as proven by the success of one of the programs that currently lacks this resource (British Columbia), we highly recommend that programs looking to set up a POCUS rotation invest in an archiving platform. Archiving ensures that exams are saved in a patients’ medical records, allows remote reviewing of exams and allows for ongoing quality assurance [14, 16]. Echoing our colleagues in Emergency Medicine [17], we believe that archiving should be the standard of care as POCUS becomes more widespread in IM.

Funding

Lastly, adequate funding is critical for the sustainability of these rotations. Funding models vary across programs, but the majority rely on fee-for-service billings using consultation and procedural codes. Billing rules differ between the provincial insurance plans such that remuneration varies across the programs. Three of the programs have funded positions for POCUS-related academic activities (British Columbia, Calgary, and Western). However, the deliverables attached to this protected time include broader IM POCUS teaching activities, administrative tasks, and research activities rather than the POCUS rotation itself. None of the programs have protected academic time or a stipend dedicated to the rotation itself.

Considering this, as well as the variable remuneration from POCUS consultations alone, attendings across all programs take on various concomitant clinical service to supplement income (see Table 2). Considering the time commitment of POCUS rotations, concomitant clinical duties must be balanced with the need to meet high educational standards for the rotation.

Education delivery

There is some heterogeneity among the programs surveyed with regard to educational delivery during the POCUS rotation. All programs incorporate significant bedside teaching, which, due to the hands-on nature of the skills involved, is essential for trainee development. Although consensus recommendations for IM POCUS curricula do exist [4], most programs did not have a predictable formal teaching structure during the rotation; rather, teaching is often dependent on attending availability, service needs, and opportune patient presentations. Most programs rely on a combination of in-person didactic lectures as well as self-directed learning and flipped-classroom approaches. Additionally, most programs offer broader POCUS education by requiring that trainees rotating on the POCUS service deliver supervised teaching sessions (academic half day, rounds, bedside scanning) to IM residents on CTU.

Gaps and areas for improvement

This process allowed us to identify several limitations. First and foremost, we identified that POCUS rotations are offered in only a third of Canadian IM programs. In addition, the programs that do offer a POCUS rotation can only accommodate a handful of trainees. This capacity limitation is driven by the scarcity of POCUS-trained faculty. This means that many IM trainees do not have access to this learning experience and reiterates the importance of broader IM POCUS educational activities beyond a POCUS rotation.

This process also allowed us to identify quality gaps and areas for improvement for those programs that do offer a POCUS rotation, specifically around policies and trainee assessment. Only two programs (Alberta and Calgary) currently have learner policies in place. Other policies such as incidental finding policies are important for patient safety and should be more widely adopted in IM POCUS. Regarding trainee assessment, all programs currently use an In-Training Evaluation Report (ITER) in addition to Entrustable Professional Activities (EPAs) for ultrasound-guided procedures. Though most programs have established a target number of exams, these serve as guidelines for what is minimally achievable over a two to four weeks rotation, rather than a requirement for successful completion of the rotation or achievement of competency. We recognize that there are inherent disadvantages to a numbers-based approach, and portfolio-building is ultimately tailored to learners’ needs [11]. In the era of Competency Based Medical Education (CBME), longitudinal evaluation of competency is the preferred approach [15]. This implies that assessment of competence should occur beyond a two or four weeks rotation and occur throughout training. In this regard, we can learn from our colleagues in Emergency Medicine [18] and Critical Care Medicine [19] who have established POCUS EPAs, allowing for spaced observation of competence throughout training. IM is only starting to plan for the eventual integration of diagnostic POCUS into IM CBME. As evidenced by this review, there is significant heterogeneity in POCUS training across programs and one can infer that trainee skills are equally varied. Ongoing work is required to define IM POCUS competency which will invariably lead to better harmonization of training and skills among IM residents.

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