It is likely most people are familiar with ultrasound, even if they do not recognize the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer’s job title. It is unlikely they understand the sonographer working in 2017 is a diagnostician making independent decisions while performing patient scans. With transducer in hand, the ultrasound technologist must use professional judgment concerning the type of images needed to discover physical anomalies. It is one of the most important duties found in the DMS job description.
The Independent, Skilled Sonographer
Sonographers exercise a high level of technical skills and judgment while producing ultrasound images. The sonographer’s work is different in many ways from the work of other imaging specialists. This is mostly due to the fact the sonographer is making a diagnosis with each image taken and passed on to the physician for confirmation. It is the sonographer who interprets the images while performing the scan and decides what the physician will see or not see.
Following are some of the unique duties of sonographers.
The results of each scanning procedure is entirely dependent on the sonographer (operator). Far from being an aim-and-snap function like taking an x-ray (x-ray technician), the sonographer determines the images needed once the scanning procedure is underway. There is always the potential that the sonographer will need to complete scans that were not initially ordered or expected by the physician based on the imaging results.
Ability to differentiate diseased tissue or structures from normal anatomy
Disease can present itself in an unlimited number of ways, and the sonographer must be able to differentiate healthy anatomy from diseased anatomy. This requires skill and judgment during the scanning process.
Requires high level of visual acuity
Though imaging equipment is getting more sophisticated all the time, the physician’s ability to make an accurate final diagnosis still relies heavily on the sonographer’s ability to distinguish between gradually changing shades of grey and black. The sonographer can identify anomalies that others would easily overlook.
Makes a diagnosis
While other technologists, like radiation technologists, will determine if additional images are necessary or will reject some images due to poor quality, sonographers are actually making a diagnosis through scan interpretation. The sonographer is a detective, of sorts, interpreting one image after another until satisfied the examination is thorough and the medical issue has been identified. Interpretations of imaging studies are made at the moment the scans are taken, and that means the sonographer, working online, is making diagnostic decisions on the spot.
Sonographers have skills the interpreting physicians often do not possess
As of now, the majority of physicians are not trained Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. The ARDMS does offer the RPVI (Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation), and some CAAHEP accredited ultrasound schools are offering sonography certificate programs for physicians. However, most physicians rely solely on the skills of the trained sonographer when it comes to ultrasound imaging. It is the sonographer who applies diagnostic skills to the images.
Sonographer is on the front line of disease detection
Gordon Parhar, an expert in sonographic technology, once pointed out in RT Image (May 1, 2006) that if the sonographer does not detect disease during scanning, there is a chance the disease will not be detected. The other possibility is that the disease will be detected only after it has progressed. A skilled sonographer often detects disease in its early stages by using the visual acuity mentioned earlier to detect slight differences in image shading and by taking a variety of scans that pinpoint the location of the disease.
Interacting with Patients
There is one more characteristic that sets the sonographer apart from other imaging professionals. Since ultrasound technology presents no physical hazards, the sonographer does not need to step behind a protective wall like the radiology technician, for example. The sonographer is in direct contact with the patient the whole time the procedure is in progress. In fact, the sonographer is usually interacting with the patient before and after the procedure. This is due to the fact the sonographer completes a medical history and may assist with patient transport.
Sonographers already play a critical role in the delivery of quality health care. However, it is fully expected the role of the sonographer will only expand. For example, sonographers are joining health care teams, working hand-in-hand with other health care professionals, to ensure patients are given quality and consistent care. Technology is also influencing the sonographer’s duties. A good example is the sonographer who performs scans in rural areas while using mobile technology.
The sonographer is working without physician supervision. Already managing unique job responsibilities, the prediction is that the importance and involvement of the sonographer in the transforming health care system will only continue to grow. Anyone choosing to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer is choosing a career with a high level of responsibility.