There are a lot of exciting words being used to describe the emerging ultrasound technology in 2015. Smartphone ultrasound is described as a ‘game changer,’ while the focused ultrasound is called disruptive technology. These are just two of the technology advances that will have a significant impact on how Diagnostic Medical Sonographers deliver ultrasound exams. New technology is improving quality and effectiveness of patient care while reducing costs of services at the same time.
Smartphone Ultrasound Brings Quiet Revolution
What if ultrasound imaging could be delivered anywhere there is wireless access? It would mean an estimated 70 percent of the population around the world could potentially get access to ultrasound. There is no doubt that achieving this technological milestone could give so many in rural areas or undeveloped countries access to ultrasound. Sonographers could check the status of pregnancies, examine tissues and organs, and detect internal bleeding or cardio and vascular anomalies.
The future has arrived. The two primary reasons ultrasound is not available to so many people are high equipment cost and lack of portability. In response to a need, the Mobisante company has introduced the MobiUS SP1 System which consists of a transducer which plugs into a smartphone sized unit. The MobiUS SP1 device, an ultrasound machine with smartphone, overcomes both challenges. Images are stored once taken and can be shared through Wi-Fi, USB or cellular networks.
A quiet revolution in healthcare has started with the first smartphone ultrasound. It is small enough to slip into a pocket or small medical bag. It is considerably less expensive that the large ultrasound units used in hospitals and clinics. A typical ultrasound machine costs approximately $300,000, while the smartphone version costs approximately $7,500. It is powerful enough to be used for:
- Monitoring pregnancies
- Examining the abdomen, soft tissues, abdomen, and a variety of organs
- Examining the aorta and vascular system
- Detecting internal bleeding
- Guiding injections
- Guiding IV lines
This newest portable ultrasound machine is not as powerful as the larger units, and the images on the screen are naturally much smaller. Spatial ability will become an even more critical skill.
Disrupting the Status Quo
At the World Medical Innovation Forum, the “Disruptive Dozen” emerging technologies expected to revolutionize psychiatric and neurological healthcare were introduced. The World Medical Innovation Forum, sponsored by the biomedical research organization Partners Healthcare, is a prestigious annual collaborative conference held in Boston to highlight innovation in healthcare in a specified medical discipline. The experts at the inaugural conference held April, 2015 chose neuroscience as the discipline.
Number 5 on the disruptor list was focused ultrasound. Also called high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), this is how it works: Through robotic technology in which high frequency waves are delivered to a specific area of the body to kill diseased cells, like a cancerous tumor, through ablation. Though HIFU has been researched for years as a possible treatment for various medical conditions, it is only recently that it is being tested in clinical trials for cancer treatments.
The types of cancer HIFU could potentially treat include liver, kidney, pancreatic, prostate, and bladder cancers. HIFU is already used to treat prostate cancer in Europe, but is still in the clinical trials stage in the United States. Though HIFU has had a difficult path to acceptance in the U.S., many experts believe there is little doubt that more study and data will lead to its regular use.
The experts at the World Medical Innovation Forum rated Focused Ultrasound as a major disruptive emerging technology in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions like brain cancer. The transcranial focused ultrasound is guided by MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Another form of HIFU uses microbubbles. The new technology enables physicians to target deep tissues in the body without using radiation or making incisions.
Much More to Come
Smartphone ultrasound and Focused Ultrasound are just two technologies that promise to bring major changes to the process of diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions. There are sure to be many more over time. Students still in the process of selecting ultrasound technician schools will make a program visit and see the ultrasound equipment used for training. There is a good chance that equipment will look very different and be used for a greater variety of purposes within the next 10 years.