Is Ultrasound Being Used More Often?

Ultrasound technology has been called the “stethoscope of the future.”(1) The continuing development of smaller, more portable and lower cost ultrasound devices, has led to ultrasound becoming increasingly more common as a routine diagnostic tool at the point-of-care and patient bedside.

Traditionally, ultrasound has been the sole responsibility of radiologists, but now the technology is being incorporated into many specialty areas. These areas include OB/Gyn, Anesthesia, Surgery, Internal Medicine, and Emergency Medicine(2),  as well as practices focusing on the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.(3) Procedures such as needle guidance for central venous access and screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms are also being performed utilizing ultrasound technology.(4) Medical schools are incorporating instruction of ultrasound techniques as part of the general curriculum.(5) The use of ultrasound for therapeutic applications is also on the increase in areas such as lithotripsy, cosmetology and tissue ablation.(6)

The advantages of ultrasound as a diagnostic tool include its availability and cost-effectiveness, the ability for clinical staff to make dynamic evaluations because it is “performed live,” and the absence of radiation.(3) Due to concerns about radiation exposure from x-rays, CT scans and other devices, ultrasound is more frequently being used in lieu of radiological imaging procedures. One study of patients who had undergone imaging procedures found “worrisome” doses of radiation accumulating over time.(7) Practitioners are taking into account the cumulative effect of radiological exposure when selecting the best means of diagnosing and treating a patient. As a result, there may be a decrease in the use of CT scans.(8)

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Footnotes:  (1) Peart, Karen, N. (February 23, 2011) Bedside Ultrasound Becomes a Reality. Yale News. Yale University. (2) Ultrasound Elective Manual. (2013) Emergency Ultrasonography, Medical Student Elective Resources. LSU Health, New Orleans School of Medicine. (3) Ultrasound Offers Advantages in Musculoskeletal Disorders Diagnosis and Treatment. (2013) Mayo Clinic, General Medical Update. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (4) Moore, Christopher L., M.D. and Joshua A. Copel, M.D. (February 24, 2011) Point-of-Care Ultrasonography. New England Journal of Medicine. 364:749-757. (5) Bahner, David P. (July 2, 2013) Integrated medical school ultrasound: development of an ultrasound vertical curriculum. Critical Ultrasound Journal. 5:6. (6) Medical Diagnostic & Therapeutic Ultrasound Devices Market (2012 - 2017) - Global Trends & Competitive Analysis. (July  2012). (7) Fazel, Reza, M.D . (August 27, 2009). Exposure to Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation from Medical Imaging Procedures. New England Journal of Medicine, 361:849-857. (8) Moore, Christopher L., M.D . (November 12, 2012) Ultrasound First and Vascular Access. Video presentation. New York, NY.