The aim of this review was to assess the clinical utility of portable bladder ultrasound.
Clinical Need: Target Population and Condition
Data from the National Population Health Survey indicate prevalence rates of urinary incontinence are 2.5% in women and 1.4 % in men in the general population. Prevalence of urinary incontinence is higher in women than men and prevalence increases with age.
Identified risk factors for urinary incontinence include female gender, increasing age, urinary tract infections (UTI), poor mobility, dementia, smoking, obesity, consuming alcohol and caffeine beverages, physical activity, pregnancy, childbirth, forceps and vacuum-assisted births, episiotomy, abdominal resection for colorectal cancer, and hormone replacement therapy.
For the purposes of this review, incontinence populations will be stratified into the following; the elderly, urology patients, postoperative patients, rehabilitation settings, and neurogenic bladder populations.
Urinary incontinence is defined as any involuntary leakage of urine. Incontinence can be classified into diagnostic clinical types that are useful in planning evaluation and treatment. The major types of incontinence are stress (physical exertion), urge (overactive bladder), mixed (combined urge and stress urinary incontinence), reflex (neurological impairment of the central nervous system), overflow (leakage due to full bladder), continuous (urinary tract abnormalities), congenital incontinence, and transient incontinence (temporary incontinence).
Postvoid residual (PVR) urine volume, which is the amount of urine in the bladder immediately after urination, represents an important component in continence assessment and bladder management to provide quantitative feedback to the patient and continence care team regarding the effectiveness of the voiding technique. Although there is no standardized definition of normal PVR urine volume, measurements greater than 100 mL to 150 mL are considered an indication for urinary retention, requiring intermittent catheterization, whereas a PVR urine volume of 100 mL to 150 mL or less is generally considered an acceptable result of bladder training.
Urinary retention has been associated with poor outcomes including UTI, bladder overdistension, and higher hospital mortality rates. The standard method of determining PVR urine volumes is intermittent catheterization, which is associated with increased risk of UTI, urethral trauma and discomfort.
The Technology Being Reviewed
Portable bladder ultrasound products are transportable ultrasound devices that use automated technology to register bladder volume digitally, including PVR volume, and provide three-dimensional images of the bladder. The main clinical use of portable bladder ultrasound is as a diagnostic aid. Health care professionals (primarily nurses) administer the device to measure PVR volume and prevent unnecessary catheterization. An adjunctive use of the bladder ultrasound device is to visualize the placement and removal of catheters. Also, portable bladder ultrasound products may improve the diagnosis and differentiation of urological problems and their management and treatment, including the establishment of voiding schedules, study of bladder biofeedback, fewer UTIs, and monitoring of potential urinary incontinence after surgery or trauma.
To determine the effectiveness and clinical utility of portable bladder ultrasound as reported in the published literature, the Medical Advisory Secretariat used its standard search strategy to retrieve international health technology assessments and English-language journal articles from selected databases. Nonsystematic reviews, nonhuman studies, case reports, letters, editorials, and comments were excluded.
Summary of Findings
Of the 4 included studies that examined the clinical utility of portable bladder ultrasound in the elderly population, all found the device to be acceptable. One study reported that the device underestimated catheterized bladder volume
In patients with urology problems, 2 of the 3 studies concerning portable bladder ultrasound found the device acceptable to use. However, one study did not find the device as accurate for small PVR volume as for catheterization and another found that the device overestimated catheterized bladder volume. In the remaining study, the authors reported that when the device’s hand-held ultrasound transducers (scanheads) were aimed improperly, bladders were missed, or lateral borders of bladders were missed resulting in partial bladder volume measurements and underestimation of PVR measurements. They concluded that caution should be used in interpreting PVR volume measured by portable bladder ultrasound machines and that catheterization may be the preferred assessment modality if an accurate PVR measurement is necessary.
All 3 studies with post-operative populations found portable bladder ultrasound use to be reasonably acceptable. Two studies reported that the device overestimated catheter-derived bladder volumes, one by 7% and the other by 21 mL. The third study reported the opposite, that the device underestimated catheter bladder volume by 39 mL but that the results remained acceptable
In rehabilitation settings, 2 studies found portable bladder ultrasound to underestimate catheter-derived bladder volumes; yet, both authors concluded that the mean errors were within acceptable limits.
In patients with neurogenic bladder problems, 2 studies found portable bladder ultrasound to be an acceptable alternative to catheterization despite the fact that it was not as accurate as catheterization for obtaining bladder volumes.
Lastly, examinations concerning avoidance of negative health outcomes showed that, after use of the portable bladder ultrasound, unnecessary catheterizations and UTIs were decreased. Unnecessary catheterizations avoided ranged from 16% to 47% in the selected articles. Reductions in UTI ranged from 38% to 72%.
In sum, all but one study advocated the use of portable bladder ultrasound as an alternative to catheterization.
An economic analysis estimating the budget-impact of BladderScan in complex continuing care facilities was completed. The analysis results indicated a $192,499 (Cdn) cost-savings per year per facility and a cost-savings of $2,887,485 (Cdn) for all 15 CCC facilities. No economic analysis was completed for long-term care and acute care facilities due to lack of data.
Considerations for Policy Development
Rapid diffusion of portable bladder ultrasound technology is expected. Recently, the IC5 project on improving continence care in Ontario’s complex continuing care centres piloted portable bladder ultrasound at 12 sites. Preliminary results were promising.
Many physicians and health care facilities already have portable bladder ultrasound devices. However, portable bladder ultrasound devices for PVR measurement are not in use at most health care facilities in Ontario and Canada. The Verathon Corporation (Bothell, Wisconsin, United States), which patents BladderScan, is the sole licensed manufacturer of the portable bladder ultrasound in Canada. Field monopoly may influence the rising costs of portable bladder ultrasound, particularly when faced with rapid expansion of the technology.
Several thousand residents of Ontario would benefit from portable bladder ultrasound. The number of residents of Ontario that would benefit from the technology is difficult to quantify, because the incidence and prevalence of incontinence are grossly under-reported. However, long-term care and complex continuing care institutions would benefit greatly from portable bladder ultrasound, as would numerous rehabilitation units, postsurgical care units, and urology clinics.
The cost of the portable bladder ultrasound devices ranges from $17,698.90 to $19,565.95 (Cdn) (total purchase price per unit as quoted by the manufacturer). Additional training packages, batteries and battery chargers, software, gel pads, and yearly warranties are additional costs. Studies indicate that portable bladder ultrasound is a cost-effective technology, because it avoids costs associated with catheterization equipment, saves nursing time, and reduces catheter-related complications and UTIs.
The use of portable bladder ultrasound device will affect the patient directly in terms of health outcomes. Its use avoids the trauma related to the urinary tract that catheterization inflicts, and does not result in UTIs. In addition, patients prefer it, because it preserves dignity and reduces discomfort.