As healthcare researchers focus on developing new non-invasive treatment options, ultrasound technology is increasingly used for a greater variety of medical reasons. This is the result of two factors: The ongoing transformation of the healthcare industry, to reduce costs while improving services, and technology advances. In 2016 and beyond, sonography students will discuss topics like Haptic optics, 4D ultrasound, ultrasound able to penetrate dense matter, smartphone ultrasound, handheld imaging systems and much more. Being comfortable learning and using technology is imperative.
State-of-the-Art Ultrasound Technology
The Diagnostic Medical Sonography discipline is on the verge of a major transformation as technology advances. Terms like fusion imaging, 3D and 4D ultrasound, high-speed imaging, bone penetrating ultrasound, optical imaging and many others are making their way into common usage. Each term reflects sophisticated research and technologies that are pushing sonographic imaging into a more prominent position as a diagnostic and treatment tool.
Following is just a sample of the ongoing technology research that is creating exciting new possibilities:
- Fusion Technology – New fusion technology merges diagnostic ultrasound images with real-time ultrasound. Previously, the fusion imaging process required doing a MRI or CT scan followed by an ultrasound scan. The patient had to maintain the exact same position during both procedures. Obviously this procedure is subject to potential error. New equipment like the Toshiba Aplio 500 ultrasound system enables sonographers to import previous images and then complete a real-time ultrasound procedure.
- Zone Sonography – Ultrasound imaging is a line-by-line imaging process. Zone sonography permits the acquisition of data from a set of zones, thus greatly speeding up the serial imaging process.
- Ultrasound Imaging from Molecules – Cardiovascular Diagnostic Medical Sonography students and working professionals will appreciate the fact that researchers are developing a new imaging technology that can measure ultrasound signals generated by using a fast-pulsing laser on molecules. The 3D images can detect the type of molecule bonds that form plaques in the arteries, giving doctors the ability to “see” the type of plaque formations leading to cardiovascular disease.
- 3D Haptic Shapes – Haptic is touch feedback technology that uses human touch to interact with computers. Haptic technology is already used in many ways including surgical training. However, new research has integrated ultrasound technology to produce invisible 3D shapes that can be seen and felt. Ultimately, the technology is likely to be used to create touchable holograms which could change the way sonographers train, and produce and analyze images.
- Bone Penetrating Ultrasound – Ultrasound imaging is used primarily to assess soft tissues that are not covered by acoustic wave impenetrable material like bone. That is probably going to change quite soon. North Carolina State University researchers have demonstrated a new ultrasound technology that can penetrate the bone which can block ultrasound acoustic waves. This would enable sonographers and physicians to use the new sonographic technology to better assess tissues like brain tumors.
- 4D Imaging with Color – 4D ultrasound has been in use for several years, but it continues to be improved. While 3D enabled sonographers to watch fetal movements in delayed time and permitted the imaging of external features, the 4D ultrasound technology brought real time imaging (without the delay). Now another advance is coming – 4D ultrasound images produced in color with much greater speed. General Electric has developed the Volusion E10 Ultrasound Machine that the company expects will be useful for many new applications once sonographers and clinicians begin using it.
- Handheld Imaging Systems – Researchers in France and the Netherlands have developed an ultrasound imaging system that can be held in the palm of the hand. It combines ultrasound with photoacoustics, opening up a whole new range of diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities.
This is a short list of what is coming in ultrasound technology. There are many futuristic emerging technologies in the works, like the capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducer (CMUT) which is an ultrasound emitter on a semiconductor wafer.
Career Opportunities to Expand
The career opportunities for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers will expand with the introduction of new ultrasound technology. What will these opportunities entail? It is difficult to predict until the new technologies are in use. However, sonographers will be playing a greater role in operating rooms, in rural areas and in clinics.
Traditionally, sonographers have worked in hospitals because of the cost and size of the equipment. When technology makes it possible to deliver ultrasound anywhere and with greater ease, the demand for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers will grow. Those who will have the best opportunities are the professionals who are able to master the rapidly changing technology, bringing state-of-the-art knowledge and skills to the workplace setting.
Look Beyond the Textbooks
Though sonographers have already witnessed impressive advances in ultrasound technology well into 2016, the rate of change is accelerating. The history of sonography extends back to the 1940s, and some advances took decades to develop. That scenario is not likely to be repeated because technology is moving the science of ultrasound imaging forward at a much faster rate.
Ultrasound technology students that want to be fully prepared for a successful career and to take advantage of new possibilities should stay on top of these advances by reading professional journals, science and research reports, commercial websites, and any other type of medical information available. In other words, reading textbooks is simply not enough.
Further Reading: Glimpse into Ultrasound’s Interventional Future