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Medical Student Turns Radiology ‘Missionary’

March 31, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Obstetric Ultrasound
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When the school year ends, most students head for the beach or a summer job or a couch in front of a video game. In May, fourth-year medical student Benjamin Johnson will head to Uganda to help test an inexpensive new radiology system that could greatly improve health care in developing countries.

Johnson is a student at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. He plans to visit Uganda in May in conjunction with RAD-AID International and Imaging the World (ITW), two organizations that try to bring radiology to developing countries.

According to a university news release, Uganda has just 35 radiologists to serve a population of more than 34 million. The release quotes Johnson as saying:

One in 22 Ugandan women die during childbirth, most frequently due to bleeding that could have been prevented by ultrasound scanning. In the United States, the figure is one in 8,000.

He will be testing a new ultrasound unit that costs just $2,000. Such a device could be a huge boon to the developing world, where, Johnson, said, radiology has been slow to penetrate because of high equipment, maintenance, and training costs.

“ITW’s model takes advantage of the falling costs and increasing portability of modern ultrasound units to address those challenges,” he said. “It also takes advantage of the proliferation of cellular networks to allow radiologists to perform outreach without ever traveling overseas.

“ITW has developed simple ultrasound protocols based on external anatomy, which can be carried out by just about anyone. We trained health-care workers in Kamuli to perform basic ultrasound scans, which capture volumetric cine-loops—essentially, videos—of patient anatomy. In the case of maternal-fetal scanning, the ultrasound transducer is swept across the maternal abdomen in five different sweeps to assess the fetal and maternal anatomy.”

The videos are transmitted to a PACS in North America via a cellular Internet connection. U.S. radiologists view the images, then send reports back to Uganda.

The World Health Organization estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population lacks access to radiology. “My professional and personal goal,” said Johnson, “is to make this critical element of modern medicine accessible to all.”

Related seminar: Maternal Fetal Imaging

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