Ultrasound buying tips
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Image 1: Pregnant woman having ultrasound scan
INTRODUCTION TO ULTRASOUND
Whenever we hear ultrasound, we can’t help but associate it with a pregnant lady inside a doctor’s office taking a little preview of the baby growing inside her womb. Ultrasound has been a very useful diagnostic tool for physicians. It is a medical test that uses high frequency sound waves to capture live images from your body. Ultrasound scan is also known as Sonography. Fetal imaging is only one of the many uses of ultrasound.
When buying an ultrasound machine, it is very important to understand first what application is to be done on the machine. Will you need it for general ultrasound, 2D echocardiography, vascular scans or perhaps 3D imaging? This diagnostic tool actually has various applications, and one distinguisher of its uses is the probes.
Image 2: Various types of ultrasound probes
A probe or what others may call a transducer is one of the most important part of an ultrasound machine. The probe utilizes a piezoelectric crystal that emits sound waves and receives the echoes. The waves bounce off tissue masses and boundaries in the body. The received echoes are then processed and displayed by the ultrasound machine main unit. The resulting image is called the sonogram which is then printed on a thermal paper.
The transducer is placed directly on the patient’s body and moved over the area to be viewed. Ultrasound probes come in various shapes, sizes or “footprints” and frequencies. Each probe has unique use for certain parts of the body. The frequency of the probe determines the image quality and penetration. The higher the frequency, the higher is the resolution. The lower the frequency, the deeper is the penetration. Let us now discuss the different probes used in medical ultrasound.
First in our list is the Linear Probe. This transducer contains an array of crystals arranged in a linear pattern. A rectangular field of view is produced with this transducer arrangement. This probe emits high frequencies in the order of 4.5 to 18 MHz, which provides better resolution but less penetration. Due to this configuration, the probe can create high definition images of structures close to the body surface. Linear probes are commonly used in applications like vascular, musculoskeletal, testicular, breast and thyroid examinations.
The next kind of transducer is the Convex probe. This probe is also called a curvilinear transducer because the crystals are l arranged in a curved, convex array. This results to a sector or pie-shaped image that allows for a wider field of view especially on deeper tissues at the cost of reduced lateral resolution. The range of frequencies used by this type of probe is usually between 2 to 6MHz.
This is the probe commonly used when looking at organs like liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys. It can also be used when visualizing the developing fetus of a pregnant woman.
Phased Array Probe
The third kind of transducer is the Phased array probe. This probe, thanks to its small footprint, enables the imaging of organs behind structures that are not ultrasound friendly. This is the reason why doctors choose this probe to view organs in the chest like the heart because its ultrasound waves are able to sneak through the ribs. This transducer is commonly used for heart examinations like 2D Echocardiography. The probe frequency varies in the range of 2 to 6 MHz.
The next kind of probe is mostly used to perform internal examination of the patient like transvaginal and transrectal scans. This type of probe is called the Endocavity probe. This transducer has a much longer probe handle and has a “U” shaped lens and array. Its small footprint allows this transducer to be used for scanning the inside of the body. Because of its shape and appearance, endocavity probes do not have a great range of depth, but they give out a much wider field of view than of a convex probe. Your doctor might order this kind of ultrasound to diagnose a certain condition or to check out your baby while still in the womb. This is used in females to check the, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and the bladder. In male patients, it is used to check the bladder, prostate and seminal vesicles. The probe frequency varies in the range of 5 to 11 MHz.
3D ultrasound refers to the volume representation of ultrasound information and is also referred to as 4D when it includes a sequence of 3D volumes gathered over time. This probe is usually utilized in fetal, cardiac and vascular applications. 3D Ultrasound can be used when doctors want to have a complete understanding of the three-dimensional anatomic relationship which could not be done when using 2D probes.
Now let us discuss the difference of portable and console configurations in ultrasound imaging systems.
When making an investment in ultrasound technology, you must first weigh in what kind of machine is best for your needs. Ultrasound machines come in both portable and console configurations. There are important factors to consider when choosing between a portable and console ultrasound machine. This is to maximize the potential of the machine and give our health care providers the tool they need to produce the best possible care.
Image 3: Vinno E20 Ultrasound Machine
The console type requires as much as 2 feet x 2 feet space in your institution. This kind of machine usually has wheels so you can transport it from one department to another.
Consoles are more advanced in ultrasound technologies. They are equipped with more features and is usually more ergonomic. Console machines also have better probes that could create better ultrasound images. You should consider this machine to provide extensive ultrasound procedures usually demanded in advanced hospitals. Given these benefits, console type ultrasound machines are typically more expensive than its portable counterpart.
Image 4: Vinno A6 Ultrasound Machine
Now let us talk about portable type ultrasound machine. If you have limited space in your clinic, you better try the portable type. It is compact and very flexible. Some portable machines today can be stored inside a bag like a tablet. You can easily bring this type of ultrasound technology from one department to another, to another clinic, or even to provide home services to your patients.
A tip if you plan to buy both portable and console ultrasound machines is that you should check if the probes you are going to use is compatible with both units. This will save you money because you could use the same probe on either machine.
BLACK & WHITE OR COLOR DOPPLER
Well, the ultrasound images are black and white. Black and White Ultrasound is usually enough for primary clinics catering basic ultrasound procedures. Color Doppler however is a method of visually detecting motion or blood flow using a color map. The advantage of having a Color Doppler is that it can detect the direction and relative velocity of blood flow which is an important data in vascular applications. Color Ultrasound is customarily required on secondary or tertiary health care centers.
FEATURES OF MODERN ULTRASOUND MACHINES
Image 5: Features of Modern Ultrasound Machines
Ultrasound machine manufacturers incorporate innovative technologies to their products to address modern day problems. Some of these technologies are as follows.
When your ultrasound machine encounters a problem that needs troubleshooting or your sonographer have concerns with regards to the usage of the ultrasound machine, you may request your vendor to support you remotely. This is done using a software installed in your ultrasound machine so that your vendor’s technical support department could access it without going to your hospital or clinic.
Teleradiology and Cloud Storage
Modern ultrasound machines are able to send images to the cloud or to a PACS system. This enables radiologists to share studies and have access to interpret ultrasound images in real time.
Bluetooth and WiFi Connectivity
Thanks to WiFi connectivity, ultrasound machines can be connected to the internet without the use of network cables. Bluetooth on the other hand allows your patient to have a copy of their ultrasound scan by sending the images from the ultrasound machine to your patient’s mobile phone.
Every radiologist or sonographer follows a certain workflow when performing an ultrasound procedure. Modern ultrasound machines are able to simplify this by having their workflow customizable. Sequence of measurements can be arranged depending on what the user wants.
Modern ultrasound machines can have additional features by purchasing the licenses for it. This pay-as-you-grow model allows you to obtain additional features later on making your investment future proof. This means you also do not have to purchase all the features up front making your capital expenditure lower. A good example for this is when you want to have a 2D echo capable ultrasound when you only have the basic 3 probes which is linear, convex and endocavity. To upgrade, you would only need to contact your vendor so that they could provide you a phased array probe and a license to enable 2D echo.
Image 6: Vinno Ultrasound Machines
Ultrasound is a vital component in medical diagnosis. In order to have the best value for your money when purchasing an ultrasound imaging system, you need to list down what ultrasound services you want to offer to your patients. From this list, you would then choose the probes that you will be needing to perform these services and know which modern features you prefer to have on your machine. By doing this, you can tailor fit the ultrasound package and you will pay only for the exact features that you need and you will avoid spending money on features you don’t need. You may ask your radiologist if he has a brand in mind so that you may contact the vendor and have a product demonstration to see if their machine is the best fit for your clinic.
Do you need help deciding which system is right for your facility or practice? Care 4 Life is here to help. Contact us today and a member of our customer service team will be happy to assist you.
Hope this article helped you on your journey of purchasing an ultrasound machine. Thank you for reading and see you on our next article.