Our Accreditation Experience

Ultrasound accreditation.

I’m sure you’ve heard about it, but you may be wondering: what does it really mean? Does it really matter if my practice site is accredited?

At one point I know that I wondered this myself! However, as a 17-year chief sonographer, and as the Ultrasound Technical Consultant for Allina Health Clinics, I can now tell you that for our sites, it absolutely does.

As a quality measure to ensure all ultrasound examinations are being performed and reported with the same standards of excellence, we decided to seek accreditation with the AIUM. Included under one AIUM accreditation, we have multiple clinic sites where the OB/GYN physicians read the ultrasound studies. It is a strict policy in our organization that any OB/GYN physician who wishes to read and bill for ultrasound exams must be added to our current AIUM accreditation.

With so many employees included in our accreditation, we knew that we needed to come up with a way to be able to facilitate new additions in a proficient manner, so that all sites received the same information and training. Thus (cue the climactic music), the “AIUM Physician Orientation and Mentoring” program was born!

We created this program for our organization as a virtual checklist of education and documentation needs, report over-reads, and competencies for the new physicians wishing to be added to our accreditation. We have a similar program for the sonographers that incorporates information and requirements for protocols, procedures, processes, and safety.

The Process

When I first started working with site accreditations everything was done on paper and case studies were submitted either on film or CDs. Now this process has been streamlined and all information that is required is easily uploaded to the AIUM site for their review.

For an accreditation such as ours that includes multiple sites, it was essential that we create a timeline to help us stay on track of what needed to be done and by when. The truth is, this is a very good way for any size site to make sure it stays on task and on time.
AIUM Accred Timeline

For us, this time around was a reaccreditation. So it is good to note that our information and supporting documents were due to the AIUM 6 months before the end of our current accreditation cycle. As you can see by the timeline, I set a goal of submitting 1 month before the due date. And that ended up being a good call because our actual submission date was only one week before the AIUM deadline.

Once all of our information was submitted, the Accreditation Team at the AIUM responded to us with any items that needed tweaking or were not quite hitting the mark. We replied to the AIUM on the changes that we would make and the education that we would provide our staff, and have been able to improve our services even more based on what we learned from those responses.

As one item of note, for us, the case submission selection and preparation was the longest and most time-consuming aspect of the process. Next time, we will start this task even earlier than outlined. Live and learn!

The Questions, Oh the Questions!
I had gone through an accreditation process before, but not with the AIUM. Since this was the first time for me, I had a ton of questions. I can’t even count how many times I emailed or called the AIUM staff, but I am sure they were groaning every time they heard from me.

However, each person that I spoke with was very understanding, helpful, and friendly. In fact, we communicated on such a regular basis that by the time I had submitted all of our information, they felt like good friends to me and I was tempted to invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner!

So Was It Worth It?
We expect our multiple sites to operate as one to ensure that patients are getting the same level of high-quality care when they go to site “A” for an OB/GYN  ultrasound, as when they go to site “B” for an OB/GYN ultrasound. For us accreditation has helped us accomplish that. The result has been higher patient satisfaction levels and improved quality and proficiency of our work.

Continuity of care. Improved quality. Higher patient satisfaction levels. Is accreditation worth it?

You bet it is!

Thinking about going through the AIUM practice accreditation process? Have any insights, tips, or ideas to share? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Laura M. Johnson, RDMS, RVT, is an Ultrasound Technical Consultant with Allina Health.

16 Years and Counting

Every year I look forward to February for a number of reasons. One is that I know spring in North Carolina is just around the corner. Another is that I know I will be escaping to Florida for a long weekend to attend my favorite ultrasound course, the AIUM Advanced Ultrasound Seminar: OB/GYN.

NC spring

Spring in North Carolina from http://www.visitnc.com.

I am a general OB/GYN and have been in practice in Durham, North Carolina, since 1998. I chose my current position because of its location, my family, and the chance to continue teaching OB/GYN residents.

In my early years as a resident educator, it was easy to teach the residents. But as time has passed and I have gotten busier, it seems that the residents have gotten smarter. They know about changes in protocols, new medications, new technology, and more. Therefore it is important for me to continue to educate myself through reading, listening, and attending courses.

I have always had an interest in ultrasound and received a great introduction to scanning as a resident at the Medial University of South Carolina in Charleston. My program directors put a strong emphasis on using ultrasound as a tool for caring for OB and GYN patients. So I probably have an interest in ultrasound beyond most generalists and I have enjoyed coming to the AIUM course since 1999.

One of the great things about the course is that it has adapted so well with the times. I remember the first 3D and 4D imaging that this course covered and how many questions people had about how they would be used. I remember discussions about whether an anatomy scan would be worthwhile and if insurance carriers would pay for it.

In the early years of the course there would be many long lectures about the frequency of X, the p values of certain markers, the RR of this thing or that thing, unreadable tables and presentations, and more. Recently, however, the course has become more evidence-based and clinically relevant for all participants. This has made the course even more worthwhile and shows that the enthusiastic and collegial faculty have dedicated their lives to medical ultrasound.

As we begin to move into fall and then winter, I start to long for February—for obvious reasons. I hope to see you in Florida.

Is there anything you have attended for more than a decade? What made it special? Have questions about the AIUM OB Course? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Frank Frenduto, M.D., is a managing partner and a board member for the Women’s Health Alliance in Durham, NC. His special interests are high-risk pregnancies, laparoscopic surgery, and gynecologic ultrasound.

Medicine, Music, and Moonlighting

I love my day job as a gynecologic oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto as well as my role as the clinical lead for Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre regional gynecologic cancer program in Barrie, Ontario. My work keeps me very busy as do my three beautiful daughters. With great friends and family, and some of the best support staff any doctor could ask for, I’ve achieved my goal of becoming a successful doctor and surgeon for women with cancer. But I’ve always had another dream tucked away.

Dodge 2I’ve always been musical – in fact at age 3 I started playing the accordion, which I’m pretty sure was bigger than I was! But I put my musical dreams on hold while I pursued a medical career. I learned to play piano, percussion, and brass, and dabbled with songwriting over the years but most of my time was devoted to my medical training at Western University and University of Toronto.

A few years ago a patient in the palliative care ward asked me to play for her. I brought in my piano and surprised her with an original song I’d prepared for her titled, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.” It was an emotional afternoon and afterward she made me promise that I would pursue my love of music professionally. Well, two albums later, here I am working on my third with two very accomplished and talented songwriters, Steve Dorff (whose songs have been sung by legends Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston, to name a few) and Paul Overstreet (who wrote the number-one hit “Forever and Ever, Amen” for Randy Travis).

Many people ask me how I find the time to be a doctor at two hospitals and a professional musician.

Sometimes after a challenging day at the hospital, it can be hard to do anything at all, let alone write and play music. But music never feels like a chore. It calms my spirit and brings me a sense of peace. I find that music has a unique healing power both for me and for people going through tough times, whether struggling with illness or other personal issues. I always say that my goal is to share my music with as many people as possible with the hope that it will bring to them the same sense of passion, peace, and fulfillment it has brought to my own life. Here are a few ways in which music helps to heal both patients and myself.

How Music Helps Patients

  1. Pain relief
    Overall, music does have positive effects on pain management. It can help reduce both the sensation and distress of chronic pain, postoperative pain, and a range of conditions, according to a paper in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
  2. Immunity boost
    Music can boost the immune function. A comprehensive study on the neurochemistry of music explains that a particular type of music can create a positive and profound emotional experience, which leads to secretion of immune-boosting hormones as well as endorphins. Listening to music, dancing, or singing can also decrease levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol.
  3. Increase energy and fight fatigue
    Many of my patients sometimes suffer from fatigue due to treatment or the postoperative healing process. Losing themselves in music helps reduce physical and emotional stress and can chase negative emotions away. Musical distraction can also help with sleepless nights.

How Music Helps Me

  1. Staying positive
    Music improves my moods and creates a more positive state of mind that helps me through busy days and emotional times.
  2. Mental and physical workout
    Music helps with concentration and staying focused. In addition, playing the piano improves motor coordination and dexterity – very beneficial when I’m at the operating table.
  3. Calm and cool
    The medical field can be very high-stress and emotionally taxing. Going home and playing the piano or writing lyrics really helps me channel this energy in a positive way. And music has been shown to help lower heart rate and blood pressure, which is great for my long-term health.

How does music affect you? What activities help you escape? How do you balance the demands of the job with your personal interests? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Jason Dodge, MD, Med, is a surgical oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. He participated in the AIUM International Consensus Conference on Adnexal Masses in 2014. You can check out his music on his website or on iTunes.

Ultrasound Can Catch What NIPT Misses

A few months ago a young couple, Michele and Dan, came to my office for a mid-trimester fetal anatomic survey at 21 weeks’ gestation. They were excited to see their fetus in 3D-4D ultrasound, and were wowed by the 3D image of their baby’s face. During the scan the couple related that they were sure their baby was OK “because the blood test came back negative,” and had decided to forego first trimester screening, despite their OB strongly recommending it.

unnamedThe blood tests, nuchal translucency measurement, and other sonographic parameters evaluated in first trimester screening are considered together to provide a risk profile for fetal chromosomal anomaly, particularly the risk of Down syndrome. If there is an increased risk, the parents may be advised to undergo invasive testing, such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. In addition, first trimester screening can raise warning flags for structural anatomic malformations in the fetus, as well as other problems for the pregnancy. If first trimester screening includes a full fetal anatomic survey, it can spot about 40% of fetal malformations at a very early stage.

While I was reassured that Michele and Dan’s results on noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) meant the risk of their baby having Down syndrome and certain other aneuploidies was extremely low, I explained that structural malformations were still a much more common concern than chromosomal anomalies, and that a negative NIPT result did not rule out other conditions. Michele protested, “On the Internet it said that the blood test rules out Down syndrome 100%, that we didn’t have to worry.”

“The screening tests only give you a risk profile,” Dan insisted, “they don’t tell you if the baby is really affected. So we thought the blood test was the way to go.”

“I don’t want to have an amnio,” Michele continued, “I had a miscarriage in my last pregnancy,” she continued, as I proceeded to the echocardiography portion of the examination.

“Your baby appears to have a heart defect,” I said, as gently as I could, and began to explain the nature of transposition of the great arteries (TGA).

NIPT is the name applied to new techniques that use a sample of a pregnant woman’s blood to examine her fetus’s chromosomes. As early as 10 weeks of pregnancy there is sufficient fetal genetic material, called cell-free DNA, found in the maternal serum to allow analysis. A negative result from NIPT is a very good test to rule out Down syndrome in the fetus: it is highly specific, meaning that in almost all cases, a negative result is truly negative. NIPT is also highly sensitive, which means that in almost all cases, a positive result is truly positive. However, because there is a chance (however small) of a false positive (a healthy fetus may have a result showing him/her to have Down syndrome), a positive test result always needs to be confirmed with invasive testing, such as CVS or amniocentesis, before any decisions are made regarding the further management of the pregnancy. NIPT has also been found useful in identifying fetuses with other chromosomal anomalies and certain other genetic conditions. NIPT can also be used to determine the fetal sex.

However, while NIPT does a very good job at what it is designed for: looking at fetal chromosomal complement in specific conditions, it does not examine all the fetal chromosomes, nor does it look at the anatomy of the fetus. Fetal anatomy is examined in detail by ultrasound scanning. There is some debate among practitioners regarding the optimal week of pregnancy when full early fetal anatomy scanning should be performed. Some practitioners prefer performing the scan at the time of nuchal translucency screening, 11-13 weeks, while others prefer 14-16 weeks, when the fetal organs are more developed. The important point to remember: a fetus with a normal (negative) NIPT result can have an anatomic structural malformation. It has been shown that while fetuses with malformations may be at increased risk of chromosomal anomaly, the majority have healthy chromosomes. The diagnosis of a malformation by ultrasound should prompt invasive testing such as CVS or amniocentesis. In some centers, more detailed investigation by chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA), which may discover subtle anomalies, will also be ordered. CMA detects duplicated or deleted chromosomal segments and translocations—rearrangements of chromosomal structure, which may not be evident on traditional karyotyping.

NIPT is a very reliable test. But patients may have a false sense of security regarding their baby’s well-being. A negative NIPT result cannot rule out anatomic structural malformations in the fetus, nor does it rule out all chromosomal anomalies. There is ongoing debate surrounding the integration of NIPT into existing screening programs.

I continued to follow Michele and Dan in the weeks and months that followed. They were, of course, shocked and dismayed by their diagnosis. With Michele at 21 weeks, we immediately arranged multidisciplinary consultation with the cardiologists, who explained the procedures the baby would have to undergo, and how Michele’s plans for the birth would have to change. Prenatal diagnosis of TGA can improve the baby’s surgical outcome, and with prompt intervention, prognosis is excellent. They met with a genetic counselor, and despite Michele’s fears, underwent amniocentesis. CMA is performed in all such cases in our center. Testing ruled out genetic syndromes that we suspected based on the anatomic malformation, none of which could have been diagnosed by NIPT.

With comprehensive information in hand about their baby’s prognosis and the options open to them, Michele and Dan decided to continue the pregnancy, despite the difficult road they knew was ahead. They made arrangements for delivery in the tertiary care center where the baby would undergo surgery, so she would not have to be transferred from their community hospital and would be under constant surveillance. “I fell in love when I first saw the baby’s face in 3D,” she told me. “Whatever comes, we’ll handle it together.”

How do you think NIPT should be integrated into prenatal care? How do you advise your patients who ask about NIPT? Have you encountered patients with negative NIPT results whose fetus has a structural anomaly? Have you encountered patients with false negative or false positive NIPT? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Simcha Yagel, MD, is Head of the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centers, Jerusalem, Israel, and Head of the Center for Obstetric and Gynecological Ultrasound at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centers, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem. He served as moderator for a panel discussion, “Noninvasive Prenatal Testing and Fetal Sonographic Screening,” that appeared in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine.