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When it comes to the field of medicine there is always something new to learn. It might be a new way to achieve results, a safer and more efficient procedure, a new treatment, new disease findings, new applications for existing equipment or any number of advancements and knowledge to be gained. In fact, progress is one of the greatest things about the healthcare industry – it’s continuously evolving, always giving us better ways to deliver prompt and improved medical care. Progress is the only constant, it’s said.
Sure enough, as technology progresses, the change is reflected in every industry as it transforms the way we acquire knowledge, travel, do business, and even deliver healthcare. It has revolutionized how we diagnose and treat patients, enhancing the quality, speed, ease, and convenience for all stakeholders including patients, doctors, and medical facilities. The portable ultrasound machine is one of the best examples that show how rapid advances in digital science spill over to ultrasound technology. We now have ultrasound equipment that fits in the palm of our hand and enables medical practitioners to view our bodies’ internal structures and organs on a Smartphone at the click of a button! Who would have thought that a cell phone could function as an ultrasound device?
With these changes and new discoveries revolutionizing healthcare delivery, it is worthwhile to examine ways in which recent advancements have influenced ultrasound technology.
7 Advancements in Ultrasound Technology
Smartphones probably won’t replace ultrasound machines however there is potential for further research and innovation in order to broaden the scope of their applications. Nonetheless, it’s no secret that ultrasound machines are becoming increasingly portable, lightweight, and smaller and provide better quality imaging and prompt diagnosis, at an affordable cost. Here are some recent advances in ultrasound technology that will set the path for the future of diagnostic imaging.
Portable Ultrasound iPhones and POCUS Devices
Many advanced Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) devices have been developed to keep with the growing demand for advanced and easy imaging in point of care settings at an affordable cost. The Sonon-300L wireless handheld transducer from Healcerion is a good case in point as it can connect with a tablet device to display images, providing flexibility. Moreover, it’s considerably lower priced than the standard ultrasound machine. Most importantly, it has an extremely easy user interface that can be learned in minutes, making home health monitoring a possibility.
Another brilliant POCUS device is Philips’ first tele-ultrasound solution that is integrated with its Lumify portable system. The system has a transducer paired with a cell phone and an application for converting smartphones or tablets into an ultrasound system. Therefore, medical professionals can connect it to their iPhone and use the portable ultrasound iPhone to seek real-time advice or consultation from other doctors in a live, face-to-face conversation and through live ultrasound streaming. One of the best things about this system is that both parties can view live the position of the probe and ultrasound imaging. Therefore, it can function as a portable ultrasound machine for home use too owing to its ability to transmit ultrasound images in real-time.
Butterfly’s Portable Ultrasound iPhone
Another outstanding example of advanced ultrasound technology coupled with digital advances is the Portable Ultrasound iPhone. It’s also called the Butterfly IQ ultrasound. It is comprised of an ultrasound transducer and an application. It shows tremendous potential for widespread use as it allows us to create our iPhone into an ultrasound device. The transducer can also be connected to an iPad to record ultrasound images.
The portable ultrasound iPhone has as many as 18 different applications for different specializations. These include imaging of the lung, aorta, abdomen, heart, and vascular imaging. One of the best things about the portable ultrasound iPhone is that it provides reasonably good quality ultrasound diagnostic imaging and features that are typically offered only by larger trolley-based ultrasound systems. In fact, as much as 90% of the imaging that can be done on a trolley-based machine can be conducted with the portable ultrasound iPhone. The application allows quantification, basic measurements and annotations, and even image transfer in DICOM format to a Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS). In addition, it’s possible to transfer images to a cloud server for storage or to save them in the PNG format or as MP4 videos.
The portable ultrasound iPhone’s capability to cater to different imaging applications is due to the capacity of the transducer to be reconfigured by a simple setting to a curved, phased, or linear probe. The benefit of a single transducer to transform into different probes is tremendous as it eliminates the need to physically substitute transducers according to the specialty. Similarly, it also allows quick changes in the settings for beam sharpness, frequency, and focal depth. The portable ultrasound iPhone offers three scanning modes, which are B-mode, M-mode, and color Doppler.
The portable ultrasound iPhone probe already caters to different specialties and shows tremendous potential to be adopted for widespread home healthcare monitoring as it makes ultrasound scanning with the iPhone a reality.
Ultrasound Powered By Artificial Intelligence
Some ultrasound machines especially the high-end ones have integrated Artificial Intelligence (AI) to some extent for improving workflow. However, ultrasound equipment is now being integrated with a high-level of AI.
For example, the latest Konica Minolta Sonimage HS1 is integrated with voice recognition controls powered by AI. It provides the ability to control functions through voice commands, allowing hands-free operation. This is extremely beneficial in interventional procedures as the practitioner typically has both hands tied – one in holding the scanner and the other in holding the syringe.
Another example is GE’s portable Vscan Extend pocket-size handheld ultrasound system with automated Ejection Fraction (EF) measurements powered by AI and advanced pattern recognition algorithms. Most traditional systems rely on visual estimation for EF measurements; however, with varying operator experience levels, there is a possibility of errors. Automation provides the EF scoring and volume measurements at a quicker rate and eliminates the likelihood of errors.
3-D ultrasound has tremendous scope in guided procedures like catheters which typically require a three-dimensional view of the anatomy. Although 3-D previously had some disadvantages like slower frame rates and mediocre resolution, it has been showing tremendous progress over the years owing to advances in computing. It is improving not only in terms of technology and speed but also with regards to providing improved resolution and imaging and higher frame rates.
For instance, 3-D echo systems are a tremendous asset in cardio-oncology and structural heart interventions for clearly viewing the valves and left atrial appendage.
Shear Wave Elastography
The Shear Wave Elastography (SWE) technology uses imaging technology to capture shear wave generation and can be used to measure the stiffness of local tissues. It provides a color-coded map to clearly show tissue stiffness in real-time. The technique eliminates the need for an experienced clinician and offers a much higher degree of accuracy in terms of recording elasticity. It enjoys widespread use with applications ranging from thyroid and musculoskeletal to liver and breast. It has demonstrated success in detecting breast lesions and liver fibrosis, and many other types of diagnosis.
Wireless transducers provide a leap of technological advantage over the existing systems as these can scan from as far as 10 feet away! Siemens’Acuson Freestyle is an example in point. It can transmit data to the main console via Bluetooth or a proprietary 8 GHz ultra-wideband radio frequency. The intended applications of the system are needle visualization, interventional procedures in radiology and cardiology, and vascular access procedures.
The idea for fusion technology was conceptualized by the need to develop a simpler multi-modality imaging using ultrasound in combination with a reduced number of Computed Tomography (CTs). The aim was to reduce radiation exposure and increase patient safety. The technology can be used to assist surgeons in conducting minimally invasive biopsies and many other interventional procedures. In addition, it can be used to easily detect lesions before, during, and after the interventional procedure, allowing even deep lesions to be targeted easily by clear visualization with real-time ultrasound imaging.
The fusion technology synchronizes ultrasound imaging with magnetic resonance (MR) or computed tomography (CT). With the combination of real-time ultrasound visualization and the clarity of CT, the technology brings the best features of both imaging modalities together. What’s more, the newer systems even have an automated registration that can be completed in seconds, eliminating the complex registration systems that were necessary for the older systems.
All in all, innovative point-of-care systems have expanded the scope of ultrasound applications while making it more accessible and affordable. With continuous and rapid advances in digital technology, ultrasound machines will continue to evolve, raising higher the benchmarks for quality imaging and detecting an increasing number of medical conditions. Improvements in imaging technology, workflow, and practices coupled with advanced features and functionalities will continue to drive the development of ultrasound equipment.
If you haven’t yet leveraged the use of ultrasound technology for growing your practice and improving the quality of patient care, it’s time to do so now! Or if you would like to replace your old and outdated system with a brand new ultrasound machine, contact National Ultrasound. We offer a full lineup of new and used ultrasound machines from all major brands. Our representatives would love to discuss your requirements and fit you with exactly what you need, at the budget you would like!