Ultrasound technology is quickly becoming the wave of the future in regards to on-the-spot diagnostics. With portable ultrasound machines being used for about five years now, the technology is continually getting smaller and more affordable. In the article entitled, "Bedside Ultrasound Becomes a Reality," the reader is given a promising look at how ultrasound is changing the initial face of medicine.
"Clinicians have often referred to ultrasound technology as the "stethoscope of the future," predicting that as the equipment shrinks in size, it will one day be as common at the bedside as that trusty tool around every physician's neck. According to a new report in The New England Journal of Medicine, that day has arrived."
Ultrasound was first used aboard submarines to detect obstacle's in their path and positioning of enemy and ally ships. This was a form of radar called "Sonar" (SOund Navigation And Ranging). A sonic wave is produced by a transducer, and as it is travels, it reflects off of different objects which send that wave back to the original source. The source then calculates the time it took for the sound wave to return, and then judges the items basic distance and location. This same idea is the foundation for how the ultrasounds work in the medical industry. Sound waves are sent out through the wand or probe (technically know as the transducer), and as the wave comes in contact with tissues and organs, it reflects, and an image is produced that visualizes the distance the waves traveled. For an example of an image produced by ultrasound, see the sonogram that is above. A video explaining the basics of how an ultrasound works, and how it is used in the medical field, can be seen below:
Let's look to the future. If ultrasound continues to become more portable and affordable, where can we expect to see this technology? If you recall in a previous blog entry, I introduced the use of new microchip technology to turn a cell phone into a diagnostic microscope. How far of a stretch would it be to expect a USB-connecting ultrasound transducer? One that emits the sound waves and interprets them, all in one package, that can be easily plugged into a small laptop computer or cell phone. This would again allow doctors in the third world to visit villages and have the accessibility of an ultrasound at their fingertips. They could quickly diagnose and track developments of a troubled pregnancy, or look at the possibility of kidney stones in a pained patient. Ultrasound can also be used to see where mobility problems may live within joints and muscles, giving doctors the upper-hand in making a correct diagnosis out in the field. Sports trainers could also utilize this portable ultrasound to instantly view damage to a joint or possible internal injuries caused by a cracked rib or neck injury. This would allow them to be able to see the problem, and stabilize the athlete appropriately before they are taken off the field of play to receive treatment.
Any doctor should welcome the use of new affordable technology to help them make the correct diagnosis the first time. With Ultrasound being refined and further developed, we should definitely expect to see more uses for the technology, and more ways to utilize it in and outside of the hospital environment. Since the use of ultrasound does not emit an ionic radiation, it is considered the most non-invasive type of imaging and will remain a staple in the medical community for years to come.
Study Guide Questions:
1. True or False: One disadvantage to Ultrasound Technology is that it emits ionic radiation.
2. In ultrasound technology, what is the technical name for the piece of equipment which emits the sound?
3. What does SONAR stand for?
Yale University. "Bedside ultrasound becomes a reality." ScienceDaily 24 February 2011. 20 March 2011 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110223171247.htm.