Improvements in ultrasound technology significantly affect providers and the patients who rely on them for the best possible care. Doctors can make confident diagnoses faster as equipment becomes more advanced, meaning the people they treat get the correct interventions faster. This article discusses some of the most notable trends taking ultrasounds to the next level and positively impacting the future.
1. New Training Methods
Every technician who regularly works with ultrasound equipment needs specialized training. However, how they receive that education has evolved beyond textbooks and lectures.
A September 2021 study showed the outcomes of hosting online neuromuscular ultrasound courses at the basic and intermediate levels. The results indicated that 98% of the basic course participants found the virtual training useful or very useful. All the people enrolled at the intermediate level said the same.
Training handled online does not replace in-person instruction. However, it can be a helpful 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 how the institution handles some of its training. This approach involves students attending to holographic patients and being exposed to a broader 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, M.D. is a professor of surgery, pharmacology and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan Medical Center. He said, “Mixed reality places the holographic patient right in front of the learner to visualize critical techniques, such as aspirating an abscess and line placement, while still maintaining the collaborative, hands-on experience of standing around the patient with other learners.”
2. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) has had a tremendous impact throughout the healthcare field. One way the technology excels is by speeding diagnosis times.
The FDA recently cleared the Koios DS, a product that uses AI to analyze ultrasounds, helping to diagnose breast and thyroid cancers. The algorithms work by checking a patient’s images against hundreds of thousands of other confirmed diagnoses from 48 worldwide sites. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the technology is that it completes an analysis in approximately two seconds.
Physicians have a long history of using imaging ultrasound technology to examine individual organs or confirm whether a person has a particular disease. That trend has continued during the coronavirus pandemic. In the early stages of the health crisis, researchers trained an AI algorithm for ultrasounds to detect the most notable biomarkers of severe lung diseases, including COVID-19.
A 2022 study also examined the effects of using AI to assist with diagnosing abnormalities during prenatal ultrasounds. The results indicated that the AI-based method caused a 34.7% reduction in time required for the scan. Additionally, since the technicians could eliminate some repetitive tasks, they could devote more attention to spotting fetal development issues.
AI is not perfect, and its results are not always superior to what humans can do without assistance. However, examples like these show why it is worth exploring.
3. Point-of-Care Ultrasounds
It wasn’t long ago that patients who needed ultrasounds had to go to labs to get them. Now, thanks to 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 market for point-of-care ultrasound equipment is expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% from 2021 to 2027. The inclusion of AI technology was one thing thought to foster that success in the industry. Growing birth rates and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases in older adults were factors mentioned.
Research also shows that point-of-care ultrasound equipment can alter and improve case management situations for patients who have suffered trauma. A provider may draw different conclusions about the immediate care a person needs if the ultrasound shows something they would not otherwise notice.
When people take individual steps to improve their health, the communities in which they live often benefit. However, if people lack access to healthcare or even perceive it is too difficult to obtain, many will likely avoid seeking medical attention for new or worsening symptoms. Bringing ultrasound technology to the patient rather than the other way around could improve how and when people get care. A New Jersey health system recently announced it would start using a platform that allows taking remote ultrasounds. 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 at two separate locations who communicate with the patient remotely. Tests showed that the system worked smoothly, even during trans-Atlantic examinations.
Another recent example enables midwives at rural health clinics in Kenya to perform ultrasounds on their patients. They eventually transmit the data to other professionals who analyze it and give opinions about anything the patient or provider should know.
4. Automated Workflows
Innovations in ultrasound technology are also happening due to various efforts to automate parts of the workflow. The idea is to improve efficiency while reducing errors.
One solution that recently arrived on the market analyzes the two-dimensional and Doppler images associated with cardiac ultrasounds. It provides fully automated features that study the parts of the heart and provide patient reports. The tool reportedly only takes about two minutes to examine the images and process the results.
Another option, which is in the clinical trial phase, fully automates ultrasounds and provides healthcare professionals with 3-D tomographic ultrasound outputs. The hope is that this equipment will offer a more economical option for facilities that previously could not afford 2-D ultrasound machines.
None of these products will remove the need for a trained professional to review whatever steps technology automated. However, when heavy caseloads or other complications make it more difficult to analyze imagery without assistance, these offerings should help relieve staffing burdens.
Ultrasound Technology Promotes Medical Progress
People have successfully used ultrasounds in medicine for decades, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. Ultrasound diagnoses will become more advanced as technology improves. These four areas show what’s possible, but it is anyone’s guess what other innovations may emerge soon.