Can Junior EPs Use E-Point Septal Separation to Accurately Estimate Left Ventricular Function?


Point-of-care echocardiography can provide a rapid and accurate assessment of left ventricular function, which is valuable in differentiating causes of hypotension and dyspnea at bedside. Visual estimation of LV function by experienced practitioners has been shown to correlate well with quantitative estimates. However, the number of examinations required before a practitioner is qualified to visually estimate LV function accurately is unknown. Although there are various comparable parameters for assessing LV function, mitral valve E-point septal separation (EPSS) is an easy-to-obtain measurement inversely correlated with LV function. EPSS is an M-mode measurement of the minimum distance between the anterior mitral valve leaflet and the interventricular septum during diastole. Despite its applicability, the reproducibility and accuracy of EPSS as a bedside tool for evaluating LV function in less experienced emergency physicians has yet to be established.

Can Junior Emergency Physicians Use E-Point Septal Separation to Accurately Estimate Left Ventricular Function in Acutely Dyspneic Patients? 

Clinical Question

This study aims to determine if novice emergency physicians (PGY 3 and PGY 4) are able to obtain EPSS measurements and determine if these measurements correlate to echocardiographic visual estimations of LV function by experienced emergency physicians.

Methods & Study Design

Prospective observational study of correlation between EPSS to visual estimation and LV function in patients who present to ED with chief complaint of acute dyspnea.

Convenience sampling of 70 subjects enrolled in the ED from July 2008 and July 2009. Criteria for enrollment included age > 18 years, chief complaint of dyspnea, ED length > 2 hours, no history of trauma, and normal mental status. Patients with known history of mitral valve repair or replacement, aortic insufficiency, or mitral stenosis were excluded.

12 senior residents (PGY 3 and PGY 4) in EM residency program with variable levels of ultrasound experiences (70 to 150 total ED ultrasound examinations; average of fewer than 25 cardiac examinations) performed transthoracic echocardiogram of patients with chief complaint of acute dyspnea. Ultrasound examination included subcostal, parasternal long axis (PLAX), parasternal short axis, and apical four chamber views. Six-second video clips in parasternal short and long axes were obtained. M-mode measurements of EPSS were recorded in PLAX orientation after all video clips were obtained and calculated during diastole. All examinations were performed without the presence of experienced emergency physicians (EPs).

One of two experienced EPs reviewed stored video and visually estimated LVEF. Two board-certified cardiologists subsequently reviewed one-half of the video clips and estimated LVEF, blinded to both junior EPs’ EPSS measurements and visual estimations by experienced EPs.


58 out of 70 enrolled subjects had complete echocardiographic studies recorded.

Concordance rates between EPSS measurements by EPs and cardiologist for LVEF were acceptable with kappa for visual LVEF estimation of 0.75 (95% CI = 0.48 to 1.00).

Spearman correlation analysis revealed significant correlation (p = -0.844, p< 0.001) between novice physicians’ measurements of EPSS and visual estimation of LVEF by experienced EPs.

Strengths and Limitations

This study compared EPSS measurement by junior EPs with visual assessment by experienced EPs showing a strong correlation. Experienced EPs were not blinded to results, which may have induced bias, but the authors find this less likely given what they interpret as good agreement on visual estimations between experienced EPs and blinded cardiologists. It is debatable whether the agreement between EPs and cardiologists with kappa of 0.75 represents good agreement. This study utilized a convenience sampling design due to logistical constraints, which may impact the generalizability of its results. Many subjects were excluded for incomplete ultrasound views, but authors note that junior EPs were actually able to assess EPSS for all subjects, further supporting the use of this measurement even when other views are difficult to obtain.

Authors Conclusions

PGY 3 and PGY 4 EM residents were able to obtain measurements of EPSS that correlated closely with visual assessments of LVEF by experienced emergency physicians with extensive point-of-care ultrasound and echocardiography experience. EPSS can serve as a quantitative alternative to visual estimation of LVEF in dyspneic ED patients.

Our Conclusions

Rapid assessment of LVEF with bedside echocardiography can provide useful clinical information in the acutely dyspneic patient. The level of expertise required to accurately visually assess a LVEF is unknown. This study supports EPSS as a useful quantitative addition to visual estimation of LVEF in patients with acute dyspnea for novice emergency physicians with less echocardiography experience. The level of correlation between EPSS and visual estimation was not perfect, suggesting use of EPSS as an addition to rather than replacement for standard visual estimation.

The Bottom Line 

EPSS can serve as a quantitative addition to qualitative visual estimation of LVEF with bedside echocardiography, especially for less experienced EM practitioners.


This post was written by Eugene Han, MS4 at UCSD School of Medicine, with editing by Ben Liotta, MD and Amir Aminlari, MD. 


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