Many people know about and have experienced the normally fairly large, console style ultrasound machines that are generally used by ultrasound technicians for uses such as 3d ultrasound scans. While these machines had great potential for many uses, their bulky nature and weight limited them to specific circumstances in controlled conditions such as hospitals.
Portable ultrasound machines alleviated a lot of these issues and while they do have their own innate drawbacks have opened up a lot of new treatment opportunities. The first ultrasound machines that were portable were developed as early as the 1980’s however they only became truly portable and battery powered towards the end of the 1990’s.
This opened up an amazing array of avenues for them to be used in specialist situations where:
- There is limited space
- Ease of mobility is a necessary requirement
- Scanning must be done in the field.
Portable ultrasound machines are even still regularly used in hospitals alongside the normal larger machines. They are routinely used in emergency rooms to aid in first point of contact diagnosis where speed, efficiency and accuracy are vital to treat the incoming patients. This is all part of the FAST scan or Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma which is a screening test to check for free fluid in a patient’s body that can result from trauma, such as blood around the heart. There is also an eFAST or extended FAST exam which also allows for the examination of both lungs in similar circumstances.
The advantages of this are that unlike similar methods to check for this fluid the FAST scan is a not invasive and doesn’t expose the patient to any radiation. Due to the fact that this is a rapid bedside ultrasound examination it also speeds up the potential diagnosis in the emergency rooms and can cut down on potential bottlenecks.
The mobile ultrasound machines have also been put to use in rugged environments far removed from any hospital. The military has been using these machines for several years now, but since 2007 even Special Forces units have been increasing the amount of them that they make available in the field. While the military has access to x-ray and ultrasound systems for a while, an x-ray machine takes up one third of a Chinook helicopter to transport to a fire base where the ultrasound machines can fit into a standard-size medical aid bag and weigh just a few pounds.
Manufacturers are not in the dark with regards to this new potential for their devices and have now made several models designed for these rugged environments where it can be subject to strong impacts and shocks.
The machines mentioned above are all self-contained ultrasound machines that can be used individually with no connection or reliance on other services. There have been other developments however that rely on 3G and 4G networks in order to process the ultrasound. In these situations they used a device the size of a cell phone to emit the ultrasonic waves; however the collected data is then transmitted over the 3G connection to a central processing centre. This not only cuts down on the size of the portable device that needs to be carried, but it also cuts down the cost of the necessary equipment and allows the ultrasound technician to focus simply on scanning efficiently while knowing that the image analysis is still being expertly monitored.
While ultrasound is already a hugely useful invention, with innovations in mobilizing the technology while also making the equipment cheaper, it shows a bright future for the industry as a whole where more people can gain access to the technology in ever more remote places.
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