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Within 20 years, will homes have a small ultrasound unit next to the thermometer in the medicine cabinet?

Paul Carson, MD, thinks so. Dr. Carson is a professor of radiology at the University of Michigan. He delivered a lecture on the subject Sunday to the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine Annual Convention in New York, as reported by DOTmed News.

Dr. Carson said that with some technological advances, ultrasound could become the dominant imaging modality:

I would guess that 30 percent of all medicine is going to be ultrasound-delivered, and more than that percent is going to be diagnosed [via ultrasound].

Would ultrasound be safe for home use—for amateur checkups or gathering data and sending it to a doctor’s office? It has a big safety advantage already in that it doesn’t produce ionizing radiation. At diagnostic intensities, it’s not known to cause harm. But, Dr. Carson said, large-scale epidemiological studies may need to be done before regulators allow ultrasound into the hands of untrained home users (or bored teenagers).

Ultrasound is not the best modality for many uses because the images just aren’t sharp enough. Dr. Carson thinks technology can cure that, and he’s almost certainly correct. Just think of the technological prowess of that pocket computer you carry around and occasionally use to make phone calls. Could a home ultrasound app be developed for smartphones within a decade? Don’t bet against it.

Dr. Carson also spoke about possible uses for ultrasound in making drug delivery more targeted and efficient. And he mentioned another team at Michigan that uses ultrasound in surgery to create and break apart microbubbles, which act as a virtual scalpel.

As for home ultrasound, he thinks it’s about 20 years away. And he doesn’t see it as a threat to radiologists. “Making medicine more efficient is not a bad thing,” he said. “It didn’t hurt medicine much for people to get [home] thermometers. We ought to be doing that with ultrasound.”

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In U.S. health care, everybody’s “reaping a bonanza,” says reporter Steven Brill, except “those actually treating the patients—the nurses and doctors.” To find out how he came to write his blockbuster Time magazine piece about health care costs, see our Facebook page.

Related seminar: Fetal and Women’s Imaging: Advances in Ob-Gyn Ultrasound, with Emphasis on the Fetal Heart


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