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An introduction to Diagnostic Ultrasound machines

Welcome to the exciting and slightly daunting world of diagnostic ultrasound (DUS)! Don’t worry though, learning how to use diagnostic ultrasound is often one of the best things MSK clinicians learn to. It can be a scary prospect, but we are here to help and make it a little bit easier!

diagnostic Ultrasound machines

Welcome to the exciting and slightly daunting world of diagnostic ultrasound machines (DUS)! Don’t worry though, learning how to use diagnostic ultrasound is often one of the best things MSK clinicians learn to. It can be a scary prospect, but we are here to help and make it a little bit easier!

Like learning to drive a car, the best, and fastest way to learn, is to have access to a car. The more time you have in the car, the quicker you learn!

The same can be said with DUS. You will need regular access to a system to help you learn, and this often means that you must buy one!!!

There are all sorts of systems out there with varying specifications and prices, so how do you know which is the best to get?

In this blog, we will explore:

  • Different types of devices available
  • Applications
  • How much they are (roughly)

Let’s get into it!

Depending on the spec, ultrasound can be dedicated to certain types of examinations. You need to consider what examinations the system will be used for, and this will partly guide your decision.

Note: Physiquipe specialise in MSK Sonography and rehabilitation and work with some of the leading MSK Sonographers. A lot of this content has been guided by the members of our Clinical Advisory Board.

Despite us being MSK specialists, that doesn’t mean we can’t provide you with the other applications.

The most common applications of diagnostic ultrasound machines are (not in order):

  • MSK Imaging (General Imaging)
  • Cardiac/vascular
  • OBS/GYN

MSK Imaging

These systems are often known as general imaging systems. Depending on the range, they can be upgraded to specialist applications like cardiac.

The transducers that are commonly associated for MSK imaging are the:

Linear transducer

Hockey-stick transducer

Convex transducer

To find out more about transducers, what they are and their applications, click this link to read our blog on How to pick the right transducer for your Diagnostic Ultrasound.

Cardiac

Cardiac and vascular ultrasound machines are set up specifically for examinations of the heart and blood vessels.

A cardiac ultrasound examination, aka an echocardiogram, investigates the shape, size, and rhythm of the heart.

There are software options that help make examinations easier and allow for more detailed imaging and analysis.

You will need specialised transducers for a cardiac exam. Typically, a phased array transducer but you may want a pencil transducer to look at blood movement.

OBS/GYN

OBS/GYN is short for obstetrics and gynaecology.

Obstetric ultrasounds confirm pregnancy, determine gestational age, locate the placenta, and diagnose any malformations.

Gynaecology is performing imaging of the female reproductive organs to assess size, position, thickness of tissues, and to look for any abnormalities.

Generally, you need a convex and/or an endocavity probe for OBS/GYN.

Which brand/model do I choose?

diagnostic Ultrasound machines

There are lots of brands in diagnostic ultrasound, all offering slightly different packages. Which one you go for comes down to three main things:

  • Initial cost of the machine
  • Training and support
  • Preference on the image

One aspect that is often overlooked is ongoing maintenance costs.

Tip: Find out these costs! It is required you service your device, at a minimum annually, and sometimes, the price of this can be astronomical!

To find out more about Physiquipe’s Ultrasound servicing, speak to our team.

The initial cost of a DUS machine

There is a huge amount of variance. We can loosely classify 4 categories of diagnostic Ultrasound:

  1. Handheld (£3,000-£8,000)
  2. Portable (£10,000-£20,000)
  3. Entry level cart-based (£15,000-£35,000)
  4. High end cart-based (£35,000-£90,000+)

There are big differences in image quality across the categories and there is no quick win. Generally, with DUS, the more expensive the better, and if you buy cheap, you will buy twice.

Physiquipe has access to a range of systems across all the categories above, and what we experience is:

  1. Clinicians starting their learning journey who purchase a handheld system, end up upgrading to a portable or entry-level cart-based due to its’s limitations.
  • A handheld system is fantastic, if you are an experienced sonographer who knows what you are looking at and understands the limitations of these handheld systems.
  1. 80% of clinicians go for a portable system due to the price being so attractive and it appearing to be less intimidating to learn.
  • However, not all places need a portable system as it lives in one clinic and does not need to be moved. So, they end up upgrading to an entry-level cart-based.
  1. Clinics/clinicians who go for the cart-based units are either experienced or part of a bigger clinic.
  • Despite this, we are seeing more clinicians at the start of their learning journey invest in an entry-level cart-based system like the Alpinion E-Cube 8LE.
  • These systems are sometimes cheaper than a portable system, they often give better image quality, and they are a much better long-term investment.

Training and support

Some companies provide their own training courses, whilst some outsource to other providers. Either way, manufacturer training should be a minimum requirement.

Find out what resources there are available to you and any costs associated.

Physiquipe work closely with the SMUG group and have often built in a course with the team there into the purchase of an Alpinion system. In addition, manufacturer training comes as standard at no extra cost, and there are hours of free educational resources for you at the Physiquipe Academy.

Your preference.

Often deciding which device to purchase depends on what you like best. It is like choosing between Apple/Samsung. Sometimes you just get on with one better than the other.

Despite them all doing the “same thing” to a degree, some just feel better to you, and that is fine – that’s your prerogative.

Also, an aspect to consider is the team at the company you are considering purchasing from. What are they like? Are they helpful? Will they go that extra mile for you? Will they support you?

This ties in closely to the training and support aspect. Diagnostic Ultrasound is a journey, and you want to be sure that the company you are purchasing from has got your back!

Lots to learn and take in, we are sure. If you would like to speak to any of our team to get some advice, feel free to reach out, we are always happy to help!

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