There is growing excitement in the field of ultrasound technology as researchers aggressively adapt technology to enable the delivery of efficient and effective remote imaging services. They are working on a variety of technologies that include robot-assisted scanning, pocket-size ultrasound devices, and tools for point-of-care ultrasound. The leading edge capabilities are creating new career opportunities for sonographers interested in working in rural areas or areas where access to healthcare is limited for any reason.
Driven by Lack of Healthcare Access
Most technology developments are driven by a human need. In the healthcare industry, one of the needs is the lack of equal access to health care. One of the major reasons the U.S. Congress passed the HITECH Act, and later the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was to begin eliminating the inequalities in the health care delivery systems. The HITECH Act requires physicians to use Electronic Health Records (EHR) to improve patient care and lower healthcare costs, and the ACA strives to ensure all people can afford healthcare services.
The two Acts work in tandem. Introducing greater use of technology within the healthcare system and requiring each American to have health insurance exposed glaring issues in the healthcare system that include inefficiency, inability to meet population needs, and expanding gaps in service delivery. In simplest terms: What good is an EHR if there is a lack of access to the healthcare services?
From Robots to Apps
To address the needs, medical researchers have focused on the use of technology in ultrasound systems as offering some of the greatest opportunities for closing health care service gaps. If Diagnostic Medical Sonographers could perform sonograms while using mobile ultrasound systems and then electronically transmit the images to physicians, millions of people could potentially benefit.
Research and development by top medical equipment companies has led to tremendous advances in the ability to deliver remote sonography services. Following is a sample of developments:
- Onboard resources that enable sonographers to access equipment information, image libraries and other relevant information
- Simpler, more intuitive ultrasound systems that sonographers with varying experience levels can operate
- Ability to transmit images via satellite or wireless internet to remote care providers
- Robot-assisted ultrasound technology enabling remote control of scanning procedures
- Pocket-sized ultrasound devices
- Tablet-based ultrasound equipment
- Portable ultrasound systems that can be synced with tablet computers using an Electronic Medical Records system that is integrated with an HER system
The technology is far from being in its final stage of development. For example, diagnostic assistance technologies like speckle reduction imaging are continuing to be added to portable ultrasound equipment. In addition, there is still room for greater use of technologies like reporting apps and instantaneous image transfer.
Sonographer Expertise Remains Critical
The technological advances enabling remote ultrasound will never replace the need for well-trained, ARDMS registered sonographers. It is the sonographer who has the clinical training that gives context to the scans, can recognize the need for additional or different images, and can identify abnormalities. One discussion taking place is the possibility of using ultrasound equipment operators in remote locations who are then counseled by certified sonographers in real time. This reflects an ongoing discussion among medical community members as to the best way to ensure everyone has access to needed health care services no matter where they live.