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Tiny Ultrasound Devices Get Into Docs’ Hands

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Handheld ultrasound scanners—used by a variety of doctors and nurses, and not by radiologists—are making their way into emergency departments and other areas of hospitals and clinics.

The devices are meant to give doctors a quick look at internal organs and soft tissues in order to improve diagnoses.

“The real advantage is in timely scanning of patients in critical care scenarios, when they serve to augment the physical examination by the physician, which can be compromised by the patient’s physical condition,” said Bruce Forster, MD, head of radiology at the University of British Columbia and medical director of imaging at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver.

“They do not substitute for the more commonly performed formal ultrasound examination by highly sophisticated ultrasound units, which permit more detailed assessment of the heart, breast, abdominal and pelvic organs, vascular tree, the fetus, and musculoskeletal structures such as tendons and ligaments, performed by ultrasound technologists and radiologists.”

Vancouver General is using Vscan units donated by their maker, GE Healthcare, for use on injured athletes during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Vancouver Sun reports that the most active user is Ross Brown, MD, a trauma surgeon at Vancouver General who was manager of the polyclinic at the Whistler venue during the Olympics. He carries the device in a pocket of his lab coat.

“Free blood floating is a bad thing,” said Dr. Brown, who is not a radiologist. “[The device] gives us a quick ‘yes’ if it is present or a quick ‘no.’ That’s something we can now get an answer to within seconds.”

If the answer is yes, then the patient might be referred for a full ultrasound or a CT scan, or taken directly to the operating room.

In Philadelphia, the Temple News, the student newspaper at Temple University, reports that Temple University Hospital and School of Medicine plan to order two Vscan machines for bedside heart scans, among other uses.

“The ability to visualize the heart noninvasively at the bedside during routine rounds or during an emergency gives the clinician immediate information that can be used along with other clinical data in the diagnosis and management of the patient,” said José Missri, MD, a professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at Temple University School of Medicine.

It’s not yet clear what this new technology will mean for radiologists. One thing is certain: we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.

Related seminar: Ob/Gyn and Abdominal Sonography

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