Ultrasound – Beneath the Surface
What's the Best Way To Train People to Diagnose With Ultrasound?
The science of sound – or acoustics to use the proper term – is nothing new. Greek mathematician Pythagoras knew about sound waves 2,500 years ago, and in the 18th century scientists were aware that sound ranged beyond that which was able to be detected by the human ear. A human ear can detect sound up to a frequency of 20 kilohertz, and therefore anything above this is known as ultrasound. The concept of ultrasound as a diagnostic technique dates back to the 1940s, and the technology has progressed rapidly ever since. So how do we effectively train people to correctly diagnose using increasingly sophisticated equipment?
A Brief History of Ultrasound
During the Victorian times, scientists began to investigate ways of looking inside the human body without surgery, leading to advances such as X-ray. Ultrasound as a medical tool became possible after ground breaking research by Pierre Curie in the latter part of the 19th century. Before the 1940s, ultrasound was used as a treatment rather than a diagnostic tool. The ultrasound concept developed from sonar, which was developed through World War 2 as a way of detecting and avoiding enemy submarines. Ultrasound waves were used to treat eczema or ulcers, and to treat some types of cancer. During the 1940s, many scientists in different parts of the world were working on using ultrasound as a diagnostic tool, including Austrian neurologist Karl Dussik who used ultrasound to detect brain tumours, and American researcher George Ludwig who used ultrasound to detect gallstones. Early ultrasound equipment was large enough to fill a room and the images produced were poor quality. Through the 1970s and 1980s technological advances made ultrasound equipment smaller, more portable and able to produce better resolution images. In the 21st century, ultrasound is routinely used in pregnancy, and to diagnose a vast range of medical conditions. Ultrasound has a huge benefit over many other diagnostic techniques as it is safe, inexpensive and can be used on any age or gender of patient.
Difficulties of Diagnosis with Ultrasound
One of the major challenges associated with ultrasound diagnosis is the increasing number of obese patients. Diagnosing problems with internal organs such as the liver can be especially difficult as they lie so far beneath the skin, so ultrasound manufacturers are constantly refining and developing products and using more advanced materials to improve their products. As the world’s population becomes heavier, ultrasound scanning on obese patients is going to become more of a pressing issue for the medical imaging industry. Training for medics and diagnostic staff who routinely use ultrasound has developed through the years along with the progression in technology, and with a far greater range of medical conditions being diagnosed with ultrasound, staff require experience in spotting many more issues than in previous generations. Training in routine scanning such as during pregnancy can be easy to organise, but it can be much more difficult to effectively train staff in rarer conditions or those which are generally detected by more senior members of staff. Of course it is possible to record ultrasound scans and explain to students what they should be looking for and how to detect any abnormalities on the images displayed on the screens, but is there really any substitute for gaining real, hands-on experience of operating the ultrasound scanner and detecting tumours, gallstones or other abnormalities in a patient’s body?
Simulators to Teach Ultrasound Diagnosis
Rather than subject a small number of patients presenting with rare conditions to endless ultrasound scanning in order to train members of staff, many hospitals and Universities are making use of simulators instead. Modern, high-tech medical simulators have many clear advantages over using live patients for training doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. Simulators are readily available when needed and can be used for hours at a time by hundreds of students, and never tire. Patients recently diagnosed with a breast tumour or other potentially serious condition may not readily volunteer to be used as a teaching tool for the next generation of hospital staff, whereas once purchased, students can access the simulator for initial training or to hone their skills at a later date. Modern simulator technology means that the tissue feels very realistic, and students can easily see and feel the difference between, for example, healthy breast tissue and a tumour. Simulators respond in exactly the same way to the ultrasound probe as real tissue would, and the wide range of different simulators on the market means that students can be trained quickly on diagnosing many different conditions.