Ultrasound in the Age of Telehealth, Telemonitoring, Telemedicine, Robots, and Kimonos

Today, there is online access to almost everything; groceries, a video chat with your grandmother across the globe, step-by-step instructions on how to fix your lawnmower, and a virtual doctor to help with pain in your abdomen. The healthcare applications of the internet have exploded in recent years with digital health and telemedicine assuming one of the highest growth areas for start-up entrepreneurs. The expansion of telehealth resources (IT infrastructure/capabilities) has allowed telemedicine to extend to isolated, inaccessible, remote spaces (maybe even your living room). And telehealth has gone beyond just a video chat with incorporation of sensing technologies including cameras, digital stethoscopes, and ultrasound.
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Ultrasound imaging in austere locations is not just about access to an ultrasound system; it requires both the ultrasound operator, and the interpreter, to have specific knowledge, competency, and ultimately accountability about the quality of the examination, and the diagnosis it helps to provide. Our NASA-sponsored research team has shown that novice ultrasound operators can acquire diagnostic quality ultrasound images after a short training period with remote tele-ultrasound guidance in a space medicine environment. The astronaut operators were able to perform terrestrial standard abdominal, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal ultrasound examinations with modest remote guidance oversight; zero gravity specific exams of the eyes, spine, and sinus were also completed. Importantly, the astronaut crewmembers quickly became more autonomous during their 6-month mission in space and were able to self-direct image acquisition.

But a major challenge with tele-ultrasound is operator training. William R. Buras, Sr, Director, Life Sciences at Tietronix Software Inc, and his team are making an augmented reality user interface for ultrasound scanning using a wearable heads-up display with imbedded guidance to improve ultrasound competency. This innovative Houston team is being funded by a NASA grant.

Unfortunately, when it gets to real-world practicality, neither the ultrasound machine nor the examination is intuitive. A team in Canada led by Dr Andy Kirkpatrick are working on a sustainable ultrasound solution using both remote ultrasound system operation and telemonitoring. They investigated the ability of non-trained firefighters to perform ultrasound in Edmonton being guided from Calgary. “We found that by using just-in-time–training with motivated firefighters, the remote examiner guiding the firefighters was 97% correct in determining the presence of a simulated hemo-peritoneum. Ironically, while this trial design also attempted to examine the utility of remote ultrasound knobology control, the firefighters were so good at the task that the remote knobology control became less of a relevant problem” said Dr Kirkpatrick.

To reduce the challenges of novice ultrasound operators, at team in France, led by Dr Phillipe Arbelle, linked a robot-coupled ultrasound device with a remote operator. The distant clinician can move the ultrasound probe with a joystick to acquire the ultrasound images. His concept has been implemented in a French ultrasound device, SonoScanner, that the European Space Agency will begin investigating on the International Space Station.

Similar work in robotic ultrasound is being done in Australia, where a team is building a robotic ultrasound machine that can perform abdominal ultrasound.

Have you seen the guy in a kimono buying a car? Online resourcing is indeed pants-optional. But if you plan on telemonitoring be suitably dressed.

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What other areas have come a long way when it comes to ultrasound? What areas are poised to be next? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Kathleen M Rosendahl-Garcia, BS, RDMS, RVT, RDCS, is a NASA contractor working for KBRWyle and is a senior scientist and clinical sonographer in the Space Medicine division working under the Human Health and Performance Contract. Scott Dulchavsky, MD, PhD, is the Roy D. McClure Chairman of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and Professor of Surgery, Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is also a principal investigator for NASA and heads a project teaching astronauts how to use medical ultrasound in space.

Why I Love Credentials

My name is Mike. I am many things, including a veteran, a business man, a coach, and a sonographer. And while the “things” I am change over time, one thing has remained the same: I am a student! This is thompsonmost evidenced by the 8 professional credentials I currently hold.

I have found that after being in the field of ultrasound for more than 2 decades, credentialing and continuing education can distinguish the enthusiastic sonographer from the merely competent one. With the introduction of more focused credentials such as musculoskeletal, breast, pediatric, phlebology, and advanced cardiac subspecialties, sonographers can now stand out from the crowd in terms of awareness and competency while at the same time being on the cutting-edge of the latest techniques and literature.

Acquiring a new credential, or even just studying for the registry examination, requires you to learn valuable new knowledge that may impact the way you treat and diagnose patients. For example, while I was preparing for the RPhS registry, multiple sources recommended a pneumatic compression device to augment venous flow while a patient is standing as an alternative to the patient performing the Valsalva maneuver in order to induce and record venous reflux. For me, this method has helped me better evaluate for this condition with less strain on the patient while eliminating communication barriers that may exist. If I hadn’t been preparing for that exam, I probably would never have learned this technique.

While some credentials are necessary for certain jobs, multiple credentials prove to existing and future employers that you take your profession seriously and you don’t settle for the minimum standard. I am not saying you need to get multiple credentials. If your professional interest does not reach beyond one credential, that is fine, but few ultrasound labs today only perform only one specialty. Echocardiography labs and vascular labs are growing together as cardiovascular labs, and many departments are requiring a more comprehensive knowledge in ultrasound. Credentialing yourself to the highest degree may get you the new job you pursue or secure the one you have. While increased pay is always a motive, sometimes the satisfaction of being able to set yourself apart from others in the field can be just as rewarding.

Some sonographers have the position that if the credential doesn’t come with a pay raise, it’s not worth it. With reimbursement cuts and higher credentialing standards being proposed by private and government payors, my opinion is that keeping your job is a pay raise.

Why do you hold the credentials you have? What are your go-to resources? What book would you like to see written? Share your thoughts and ideas here and on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Mike Thompson, MPH, RDMS, RDCS, RVT, RPhS, RVS, RCS, RCCS, is Owner of Diagnostic Resources in Perry, Georgia.

 

How to Obtain Focused Cardiac Ultrasound Images

My first exposure to handheld ultrasound was as a first-year medical student. I was assigned to a cardiology clinic with an attending that pioneered handheld ultrasound examinations. Watching him move from patient to patient and use ultrasound to simultaneously diagnose and teach inspired me to learn how to use ultrasound and incorporate it into my practice.

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Parasternal long axis demonstrating a dilated left ventricle.

As a budding cardiologist, examining and triaging patients with handheld ultrasound is a part of my daily work. Although handheld ultrasound and the stethoscope differ vastly in their technology, at the bedside, both are limited by the user’s interpretation of the examination findings. I have found when using handheld ultrasound, as with the stethoscope, perhaps the most important tool is “between the ears.”

The “Introduction to Focused Cardiac Ultrasound” set of lectures provide an overview to focused cardiac ultrasound views and a guide to obtain them. The main goal is to develop an understanding of the scope of focused cardiac ultrasound and to “get the heart on the screen” when scanning. The first lecture focuses on the parasternal long axis and subcostal views of the heart. In practice these views will often be the most helpful and accessible. The second lecture reviews the parasternal and subcostal views and introduces the apical views of the heart. Each lecture includes sample diagnoses.

My rationale for reviewing all the basic views of the heart is to provide a broad survey of all the windows and probe orientations. When a formal cardiac echo is ordered, these are the views and windows obtained by the sonographer. In practice with handheld ultrasound, one or two of these views can be utilized to answer the question at hand. Based on patient positioning and body habitus, however, certain windows may provide a better view of the heart.

My hope in sharing all the views in the second lecture is to not overwhelm the learner but rather provide a strong foundation in understanding the anatomical relationships of the ventricles and atria in the body and see how one window builds off the next. The views in this lecture are directly applicable to structured bedside ultrasound examinations, such as the “CLUE examination.”

At our home institution, we utilize these lectures in a continuously rolling small-group lecture series for our medical students and house staff. The cardiology fellow leads the lecture and the hands-on scanning portion, rotating every third week on the step-down cardiology unit. Overall the feedback has been positive with many of the trainees spreading the skills to other rotations. We are happy to share this resource and welcome feedback.

What resources are invaluable to you? What tools do you use to continually learn? Where do you find the information you need? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Colin Phillips, MD, is Fellow, Division of Cardiovascular Disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.