Column – Key Trends Advancing Ultrasound Technology

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Improvements in ultrasound technology significantly affect providers and patients who rely on them for the best possible care. Doctors can make reliable diagnoses faster as equipment becomes more advanced, which means the people they treat get the right interventions faster. This article discusses some of the most notable trends that are taking ultrasound to the next level and positively impacting the future.

1. New training methods

Every technician who regularly works with ultrasonic equipment needs specialized training. However, the way they receive this education has evolved beyond textbooks and lectures.

A September 2021 study showed the results of hosting online neuromuscular ultrasound courses at basic and intermediate levels. The results indicated that 98% of participants in the basic course found the virtual training useful or very useful. All mid-level registrants said the same thing.

Online training does not replace in-person instruction. However, it can be a useful supplement, especially when traditional education becomes less feasible.

Another recent example involved the University of Michigan working with an extended reality (XR) provider to change the way the institution handles some of its training. This approach involves students assisting holographic patients and being exposed to a wider range of scenarios than conventional mannequins allow. In addition to practicing ultrasounds, learners can compare CT scans, deal with deteriorating vital signs and more.

Mark Cohen, MD, is a professor of surgery, pharmacology, and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan Medical Center. He said: “Mixed reality puts the holographic patient right in front of the the learner to visualize critical techniquessuch as abscess aspiration and line placement, while retaining the collaborative and hands-on experience of standing around the patient with other learners.

2. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has had a huge impact in healthcare. The technology excels in particular by accelerating diagnostic times.

The FDA recently cleared the Koios DS, a product that uses AI to analyze ultrasound, helping to diagnose breast and thyroid cancers. Algorithms work by verify a patient’s images against hundreds of thousands of other confirmed diagnoses from 48 sites worldwide. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the technology is that it completes a scan in about two seconds.

Doctors have long used ultrasound imaging technology to examine individual organs or confirm whether a person has a particular disease. This trend has continued during the coronavirus pandemic. At the start of the health crisis, researchers trained an AI algorithm for ultrasound to detect the most notable biomarkers serious lung diseases, including COVID-19.

A 2022 study also looked at the effects of using AI to help diagnose abnormalities in prenatal ultrasounds. The results indicated that the AI-based method resulted in a 34.7% reduction in time required for scanning. Also, since technicians could eliminate some repetitive tasks, they could devote more attention to detecting fetal development problems.

AI isn’t perfect, and its results aren’t always superior to what humans can do without assistance. However, examples like these show why it’s worth exploring.

3. Point-of-Care Ultrasounds

Not so long ago, patients who needed ultrasounds had to go to the lab to get them. Now, with the availability of portable or point-of-care ultrasounds, they can have them performed by a physician at the bedside.

According to Global Market Insights, the point of care ultrasound equipment market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% from 2021 to 2027. The inclusion of AI technology was something thought to drive this success in the industry. Rising birth rates and increasing prevalence of chronic diseases among the elderly are factors mentioned.

Research also shows that the point of service ultrasound equipment can modify and improve case management situations for trauma patients. A provider may draw different conclusions about the immediate care a person needs if the ultrasound shows something they wouldn’t otherwise notice.

When people take individual action to improve their health, the communities in which they live often benefit. However, if people don’t have access to health care or even think it’s too hard to get, many are likely to avoid seeing a doctor for new or worsening symptoms. Bringing ultrasound technology to the patient rather than the other way around could improve how and when people receive care. A New Jersey health system recently announced that it would begin using a platform that allows you to take ultrasounds remotely. The FDA has approved the tool for clinical use, and hospitals in Canada and Europe are already using it. The setup involves a robotic arm, an ultrasound machine, and experts in two separate locations who communicate with the patient remotely. Tests showed that the system worked smoothly, even during transatlantic examinations.

Another recent example allows midwives in rural health centers in Kenya perform ultrasounds on their patients. They may pass the data on to other professionals who analyze it and advise on anything the patient or provider should know.

4. Automated Workflows

Innovations in ultrasound technology are also occurring through various efforts to automate parts of the workflow. The idea is to improve efficiency while reducing errors.

A solution recently arrived on the market analyzes the two-dimensional and Doppler images associated with cardiac ultrasounds. It provides fully automated features that study parts of the heart and provide reports to patients. The tool would have only takes about two minutes to review the images and process the results.

Another option, which is in the clinical trial phase, fully automates ultrasound and provides healthcare professionals with 3D tomographic ultrasound results. The hope is that this equipment will provide a more economical option for facilities that could not afford to purchase 2D ultrasound scanners before.

None of these products will remove the need for a trained professional to review all stages of automated technology. However, when heavy workloads or other complications make unattended image analysis more difficult, these offerings should help alleviate staffing burdens.

Ultrasound technology drives medical progress

People have successfully used ultrasound in medicine for decades, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Ultrasound diagnostics will become more advanced as technology improves. These four areas show what is possible, but no one knows what other innovations may emerge soon.