Improving ear infection diagnoses

If you are a parent, there’s a decent chance you’ve had to comfort a screaming child with an ear infection. And you are not alone. Studies show middle ear infections are among the most frequent diseases diagnosed among children and one of the most common reasons for prescribing antibiotics worldwide.

However, it’s also known that overuse of antibiotics can lead to drug resistance later in life. Understanding the need to reduce antibiotic use, OSF Ventures invested in PhotoniCare, Inc., a company that’s developed a more precise way to detect ear infections for both children and adults.

The device, known as the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope, works much like a traditional otoscope that is used to look inside the ear. But this tool uses a novel application of light wave technology to see behind the eardrum for evaluation of middle ear fluid. Since the beginning of March, two OSF OnCall Urgent Care locations have been using the digitally enhanced otoscope and are already noticing a difference.

Enhancing clinical decision making

“A provider can look in a patient’s mouth or at their skin and have a clinical understanding of whether you see an infection or not,” said Susan Wolf, nurse practitioner and clinical director for OSF OnCall Urgent Care. “But there really isn’t a great way to look deep inside the ear where an infection can be hidden.”

Otoscopes have been used to diagnose ear infections for more than 150 years, but there is only a 50% accuracy rate when using the tool. The OtoSight Middle Ear Scope improves that to more than 90% accuracy.

At two OSF OnCall Urgent Care sites, the device has been integrated into the workflow any time a pediatric or adult patient comes in with ear fullness, ear pain or ear drainage.

“The cool thing about the OtoSight is that the patient can watch what’s taking place inside the ear canal in real time on a video screen,” Susan said. “Along the way, we can explain what we’re seeing and why we believe the ear is or is not infected.

“This guides the provider’s confidence a little bit more because they have evidence right in front of them. It can also guide a patient or parent’s satisfaction as you walk them through the examination.”

Susan said they have many stories of when the OtoSight has been useful. This includes a time when a surgeon brought their child to an OSF OnCall Urgent Care for a better look inside the ear.

“He actually examined his child’s ear at home with a traditional otoscope and couldn’t determine whether there was an infection. We used the OtoSight and showed him there was indeed an infection,” Susan said. “He was appreciative knowing it was appropriate to prescribe an antibiotic.”

Seven providers are using the device at OSF OnCall Urgent Care sites. At the same time, leaders are collecting data measuring the confidence level of clinicians using the OtoSight and whether the tool is helping guide diagnosis decisions.

The goal is to spread the use of the device throughout different urgent care, pediatric and family practice facilities.

Improving outcomes and reducing costs

Diagnosing ear infections is difficult, and the wrong choice can lead to unnecessary use of antibiotics and even surgery. Improving the accuracy of middle ear infection diagnoses could save millions of dollars in the U.S. alone.

“If you’re going to your pediatrician or urgent care quite often for frequent ear infections or what you believe are ear infections, your child is at risk of building a resistance to antibiotics over time and likely experiencing unnecessary side effects,” Susan said. “We want to stop that from happening. By using the OtoSight, we have the potential to improve diagnosis and treatment in patients and reduce future costs.”

Last Updated: August 18, 2021

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About Author: Dan Bruner

Dan Bruner is a Ministry Performance Improvement (PI) Specialist for OSF HealthCare where he has worked since April 2019. Before joining the OSF HealthCare team, Dan was a consultant for a company that specialized in manufacturing and supply chain. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2012. Dan lives in Dunlap with his wife, son and two dogs. In his spare time, he is an avid golfer and loves spending time with his family.

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Categories: Innovation