New Advances in Ultrasound Technology
As a tool used in the medical field, ultrasound hasn’t been around long. Only since the 1950s has ultrasound been in use. Like any tool or process, there’s room for innovation and new advances.. As ultrasound technology gets used more often, professionals discover what is lacking or could be added by the manufacturer. They report back to manufacturers or repair technicians additions they would like to see in newer models, and companies respond. Developments in one technology can improve a parallel technology—for instance, 3D imaging was a game-changer for ultrasound. The world of ultrasound continues to blaze forward to improve patient care in the medical industry.
In a time of slower and lower insurance reimbursements, providers became more productive and increased patient throughput while maintaining the level of patient care. For ultrasound imaging systems and their internal reporting systems, this meant streamlining workflow processes. Some newer systems have features such as fewer dropdowns, less keystrokes, automation or semi-automation of measurements, and faster processing times.
One company released a new version that has fewer keys to help simplify the workflow. It’s also 50% lighter than previous machines, which makes it easier to move and lessens the strain on sonographers.
GE Healthcare introduced automated lesion segmentation on its new Logiq E10 system to increase productivity through automation. Repetitive exam steps create significant ergonomic challenges. The software helps eliminate the need for the user to measure lesions manually. It does this by segmenting a lesion and automatically providing a trace of the lesion and corresponding area. This feature also helps increase consistency among different users for documentation and follow-ups.
Other ergonomic advances have debuted recently. Using a smaller trackball makes the keyboard smaller and enables shorter hand movements, which makes the machine more ergonomic and easier to use.
Point-of-care ultrasound exploded in the last few years. Manufacturers released many different versions of the versatile machines. Small, pocket-sized, or slightly larger cart or wall-mounted ultrasound systems let technicians look inside a patient faster and more accurately. They also can let them know if a higher image level is necessary. Point-of-care ultrasound made its way into subspecialties such as emergency and critical care, anesthesia, and internal medicine. A wireless, handheld ultrasound device was recently released. It works with a partner device that sits on a portable table that displays the images. It costs a fraction of a traditional ultrasound, and it’s so easy to use, a person can learn how to operate it in minutes. Dr. Michael Lanspa, M.D. explained the versatility and importance of these smaller portable devices, “Some institutions use full ultrasound systems to do all of their point-of-care ultrasound. There are many tools for different jobs, and the problem is that many people have different jobs they need to do. Some centers doing very sophisticated measurements will want a full system. Some people say they need the portability because they go all over the hospital to do bedside ultrasounds and use these systems like a stethoscope. A person like that might want a hand-held device.”
New Visualization Methods
How medical professionals and patients view the ultrasound images inspired a flashy new trend. Everyone in the examination room views the monitor and images, so it’s the most important aspect of the machine. Manufacturers moved beyond the basic 2-D images and even beyond the 3-D images. They’re creating new ways to produce the images to speed up evaluations and make them easier to understand. New imaging recently unveiled addresses fetal heart and brain imaging. Due to a fetus’s small size and fast heart rate, fetal cardiac assessments often prove difficult to perform. At 18 weeks, the fetal heart beats 150 times per minute, and it’s the size of an olive. With a diminutive size and the baby in constant motion, it’s like trying to find a moving target. Monitoring fetal heart rate is important because heart defects affect countless babies globally each year. The new technology helps evaluate the fetal heart shape, size, and contractibility in less than three minutes. The software also helps reveal slow-flow blood, such as neurovascular circulation. These advances allow doctors and sonographers to see things they could not previously. The limitations of 2-D imaging didn’t allow for such clear images, which made such a diagnosis impossible.
A.I. Integration into Ultrasound
Artificial Intelligence lead to the automation of time-consuming tasks, and it makes picking out the ideal image from thousands in a data set and quantification easier. Many high-end systems already integrated some level of A.I. Most new systems going forward will also have some level of A.I. in them. Integrating A.I. into the background of some ultrasound systems began a few years ago. The goal was to increase workflow and speed. Phillips ultrasound machines, such as the Epiq systems we have for sale, use anatomical intelligence where the A.I. can instantly identify, color code, and segment the anatomy in the scanning area. It can also select the best scanning slice view for a specific exam, extract it from a 3-D dataset, and improve the reproducibility regardless of the sonographer’s skill level. Phillips Epiq ultrasound systems have anatomical intelligence for breast imaging to enhance reproducibility and to simplify the workflow. The automation provides visual mapping of screened anatomy with minimal user interaction. A standard scan will produce hundreds of images, and if a doctor wants to see a specific one, they would have to flip through them all to find it—that takes a long time. The A.I. makes it possible to pull that specific image, and all associated images, automatically. Other companies are adding A.I. voice recognition features to their machines. These new voice-activated controls will allow the sonographer to operate the machine hands free. Aimed at musculoskeletal procedures, the technician can hold the probe in one hand and the needle in another, and they can conduct the procedure without the need for an assistant.