Original Research|Articles in Press

Comparison of Commonly Carried Liquids Against Commercial Ultrasound Gel for Use in the Backcountry Setting

Published:February 18, 2023DOI:


      Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is utilized in austere environments because it is lightweight, durable, battery powered, and portable. In austere settings, weight and space constraints are limitations to carrying dedicated ultrasound gel. Few studies have assessed commonly carried liquids as gel alternatives. The study objective was to assess the suitability of common food and personal care products as ultrasound coupling agents compared with that of commercial gel.


      A noninferiority study compared 9 products to commercial gel. Each substance was independently tested on 2 subjects by 2 sonographers covering 8 standardized ultrasound windows. Clips were recorded, blinded, and independently graded by 2 ultrasound fellowship-trained physicians on the ability to make clinical decisions and technical details, including contrast, resolution, and artifact. A 20% noninferiority margin was set, which correlates to levels considered to be of reliably sufficient quality by American College of Emergency Physicians’ guidelines. The substances included water, soap, shampoo, olive oil, energy gel, maple syrup, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and lotion.


      A total of 300 of 318 (94%) clips met the primary endpoint of adequacy to make a clinical decision. All media, except sunscreen, were noninferior to commercial gel in the ability to make a clinical decision (α=0.05). In terms of secondary outcomes, resolution, artifact, and contrast, all substances were noninferior to commercial gel (α=0.05). The sonographers concluded that all gel alternatives’ usability performed similarly to commercial gel, with the exception of energy gel.


      Of the 9 substances tested, 8 were noninferior to commercial gels for clinical decisions. Our study indicates that several POCUS gel substitutes are serviceable to produce clinically adequate images.


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