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Ultrasound: The stethoscope of modern imaging

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | May 29, 2012
From the May 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Scenarios like this showcase the myriad of advantages ultrasound has in conjunction with or as an alternative to other imaging modalities that are not only pricier, but may also expose the patient to radiation dose.

Fusion imaging with MRI and CT imaging has also been optimized; by simplifying and semi-automating the fusion process, advanced feature sets are becoming user-focused, a trend sure to drive greater use, according to Holloway. For example, Smart Fusion, a feature available on Toshiba’s Aplio 500, allows health care professionals to call up a prior CT exam onto the ultrasound and synch the two.

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“This not only improves your diagnostic confidence, because you are fusing two modalities together, but it also provides an excellent way to utilize interventional procedures to follow up from patient studies,” says Siemens’ Davis. “The benefits of fusion imaging include less radiation dosage to the patient, because you can use ultrasound, and it improves patient care. This goes with the general trend of hybridization of modalities.”

Elhihi believes that most hospitals can actually take 20 to 30 percent of their CT biopsies and move them over to ultrasound.

“We are seeing different emerging applications, especially given the new health care reform and the economic climate, where ultrasound is being seen as the modality to use first,” he says. “If need be, doctors will then expand to CT or MR.”

Ultrasound’s new frontiers
There has been a large growth of ultrasound outside of the traditional markets of radiology, cardiology and OB/GYN, with its utilization increasing among emergency medical physicians, anesthesiologists and critical care environments. These emerging markets are sprouting quickly.

“I just came back from AIUM, which ten years ago was dominated by radiologists,” says Elhihi. “Now only 40 percent of membership is radiology, with the remaining 60 percent coming from other specialties – many of them didn’t exist ten years ago.”

Most of Ultrasonix’s customers are in emerging market segments at point-of-care where ultrasound is used for guidance and fast assessments, according to Neena Rahemtulla, the company’s director of marketing. In emerging economies, ultrasound is used in a shared services model. For applications like musculoskeletal medicine, ultrasound is a new tool for many physicians gaining firsthand experience as to the value of ultrasound guided procedures.

“Increased use in musculoskeletal applications, ranging from sports medicine to rheumatology, is already occurring,” says Holloway. “Rapid assessment of sports injuries using compact systems is being widely publicized by suppliers, most notably for use in the American Football League (NFL) and London 2012 Olympics. Here, and in other new applications, is physician education most vital.”

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