Physicians have been utilizing conventional ultrasound, also referred to as b-mode ultrasound, for diagnostic imaging since the 1970s. However, within the last ten years 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, in addition to 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 using more inexpensive solutions, this trend is expected to persist until ultrasound is utilized in every single doctor’s office.
Today, ultrasound images can be purchased with higher resolutions, allowing physicians to see much clearer definition. “Everyone is utilized 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 are 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 might be credited to upgrades in ultrasound equipment. “The b-mode technology has improved enormously with regards to transducer sensitivity, the beam former, image processing speed and the quality of the final data display,” he stated. These improvements have led to a picture quality in b-mode imaging that is better than it was even 10 years ago. Physicians can see things which are many smaller along with a lot deeper than was once possible. “We are able to see flow in vessels as small as 2 mm in diameter in organs like the kidney and lymph nodes.”
Due to some extent to these image-quality improvements, ultrasound has become being utilized in interventional procedures generally covered with computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). And although a lot of interventional physicians still depend on CT and MRI for lung procedures, it is now common for interventionalists to use ultrasound instead of CT for image-guided biopsies and ablations.
Volumetric ultrasound also has continued to enhance. Ultrasound once was only capable of capture a single imaging plane, but today it can acquire volumes. “Transducers that allow for your acquisition of real-time volumes of tissue permit us to image in multiple planes – for instance, the transverse and sagittal dimensions – simultaneously,” Samir said. While volumetric ultrasound has been doing development for several years, the transducers have only been designed for conventional use for the last few years. And since volumetric ultrasound allows physicians to characterize tissue better than before and perform conventional procedures with much greater accuracy, this area of ultrasound will keep growing.
Newer technologies are set to revolutionize ultrasound technician salary. One technology is sonoelastography, an approach that has been in development for nearly two decades. Sonoelastography utilizes exactly the same machine that does b-mode ultrasound to measure tissue stiffness. Its dimensions are the mechanical characteristics of tissues and then displays qmdirp mechanical characteristics overlaid on the conventional b-mode ultrasound image. By providing physicians the cabability to see stiffer and softer areas within the tissue, sonoelastography will aid in liver fibrosis staging, thyroid nodule, lymph node and indeterminate breast lump characterization, as well as the detection of prostate cancer, which cannot be finished with conventional ultrasound. Elastography continues to be available in Europe for quite a while and systems in the United States started receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval within the last year.
Another recent development is the usage of ultrasound contrast agents. Contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) has become available in Canada, Australia, China and Europe for several years, but is not available in america outside of 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 along with other legislation is playing a huge role within the widespread adoption of ultrasound. This could be observed in the legislation that lots of states have passed requiring radiologists to tell women when they have dense breasts, and to inform them of some great benefits of supplemental screening.