Physicians have been utilizing traditional ultrasound, also called b-mode ultrasound, for diagnostic imaging since the 1970s. However, within the last a decade there have been significant technological improvements within the equipment, along with growth and development of new technologies that allowed ultrasound to become extensively adopted. Ultrasound equipment has gotten physically smaller, generates less heat and has become more power efficient. These upgrades, along with vast enhancements in image quality, have pushed ultrasound into the point-of-care setting. Point-of-care ultrasound is becoming widely performed in emergency rooms, PCP offices and obstetric practices. As healthcare reform will continue to favor the use of more inexpensive solutions, this trend is expected to persist until ultrasound is used in each and every doctor’s office.
Today, ultrasound images can be found with higher resolutions, allowing physicians to view much clearer definition. “Everyone can be used to ultrasound pictures being fuzzy,” said Tomo Hasegawa, director, ultrasound business unit, Toshiba America Medical Systems. “With enhancement in computer systems doing real-time processing, we’re beginning to get images which can be so clear, people don’t even realize it’s ultrasound.”
Anthony Samir, M.D., associate medical director, ultrasound imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, said these improvements could be credited to upgrades in ultrasound equipment. “The b-mode technology has improved enormously in terms of transducer sensitivity, the beam former, image processing speed and the quality of the ultimate data display,” he stated. These improvements have ended in a graphic quality in b-mode imaging that is superior to it had been even a decade ago. Physicians can see stuff that are much smaller along with a lot deeper than once was possible. “We can easily see flow in vessels no more than 2 mm in diameter in organs just like the kidney and lymph nodes.”
Due to some extent to these image-quality improvements, ultrasound has become used in interventional procedures generally dominated by computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). And although many interventional physicians still rely on CT and MRI for lung procedures, it is now common for interventionalists to utilize ultrasound as opposed to CT for image-guided biopsies and ablations.
Volumetric ultrasound has additionally continued to boost. Ultrasound once was only capable of capture a single imaging plane, but today it may acquire volumes. “Transducers that permit for that acquisition of real-time volumes of tissue permit us to image in multiple planes – as an example, the transverse and sagittal dimensions – simultaneously,” Samir said. While volumetric ultrasound has been around development for many years, the transducers only have been available for conventional use for recent years. And because volumetric ultrasound allows physicians to characterize tissue a lot better than before and perform conventional procedures with much greater accuracy, this region of ultrasound will keep growing.
Newer technologies are positioned to revolutionize ultrasound technician salary. One technology is sonoelastography, an approach that has been in development for nearly two decades. Sonoelastography utilizes the same machine that does b-mode ultrasound to measure tissue stiffness. Its dimensions are the mechanical characteristics of tissues then displays qmdirp mechanical characteristics overlaid on the conventional b-mode ultrasound image. By giving physicians the opportunity to see stiffer and softer areas within the tissue, sonoelastography will help with liver fibrosis staging, thyroid nodule, lymph node and indeterminate breast lump characterization, and the detection of prostate cancer, which should not be done with conventional ultrasound. Elastography continues to be available in Europe for some time and systems in america started receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the last year.
Another recent development is the use of ultrasound contrast agents. Contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) has become offered in Canada, Australia, China and Europe for several years, but has not been available in america away from echocardiography. CEUS grants far more sensitivity for that detection of tumors, allowing ultrasound use to grow into most of the functions currently done by CT and MRI.
Healthcare reform as well as other legislation is playing a large role within the widespread adoption of ultrasound. This is often observed in the legislation that many states have passed requiring radiologists to tell women should they have dense breasts, as well as tell them of the benefits of supplemental screening.