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.

A Future Career Path for the MSK Sonographer

The sonographic community has the opportunity to take advantage of recent orthopedic surgeons’ interest in diagnostic ultrasound. Although much of the interest was prompted by the usefulness of guided injections, sonographers need to fully appreciate and understand the value of the information derived from an ultrasound study, which will ultimately lead the surgeon to better surgical decisions and better patient outcomes. Once you are a part of the orthopedic diagnostic team, you will be able to function as a specialist Physician Assistant member, adding a new dimension to the orthopedic practice and demonstrating the incredible value of diagnostic soft tissue imaging.

I am a Board-Certified Orthopedic Surgeon, with subspecialty in shoulder orthopedics including arthroscopy and open surgery. I incorporated diagnostic shoulder/MSK ultrasound as part of my office practice 20 years ago especially for evaluation of patients presenting with protracted shoulder pain (in addition to the traditional history and physical exam, and occasional MRI).

I have valued diagnostic shoulder imaging in my practice, and determined that all Orthopedic Surgeons should be using ultrasound imaging as part of their usual diagnostic evaluation of patients (especially patients presenting with protracted painful shoulder problems affecting function). In addition, an ultrasound exam with normal findings may be more important than an ultrasound exam that finds some pathology.

I have concluded that the real-time ultrasound examination with comparison to the contralateral side available to the orthopedic surgeon, in most cases, is more valuable than the information obtained from the MRI (especially regarding soft tissue pathology, present or absent).

For example, compare the MRI detail of the supraspinatus with the ultrasound motion clip of the supraspinatus moving under the acromion (see the still MR image below and, at bottom of page, the 1st video, which is the active ultrasound clip of the supraspinatus). MRI is accomplished with arms immobilized at one’s side, and does not benefit from the study being compared to the contralateral side. However, it produces a nice clear image. The ultrasound image in long axis can be a still image or a motion clip viewing the supraspinatus or infraspinatus moving under the acromion and the reaction causing impingement syndrome, spurs along the anterior lateral border of the acromion, dynamic sub acromial bursitis, or a rotator cuff tear, which may be attritional and similarly present on viewing the asymptomatic shoulder.

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The Math

The following statistics help to identify the future vital need for the sonographer to become part of the team working with the surgeon in an orthopedic office practice (Orthopaedic Surgeon Quick Facts, www.aaos.org; 10 Interesting Statistics and Facts About Orthopedic Practice, www.beckersspine.com; Am J Orthop 2016;45(2):66-67; 20 Things to Know About Orthopedics, www.beckershospitalreview.com).

There are approximately 28,000 (2012) orthopedic surgeons in the US, 75% of whom are in private practice, and many are in group practices of 2 or more. The general orthopedic surgeon sees an average of 70-90 patients per week, of which an estimated 12% or more have shoulder problems. This equates to 10 orthopedic shoulder evaluations per week for 1 solo general orthopedic practice, and 20 for a 2-man group (in the same office). Ten to 20 patients (minimum) per week would then benefit from ultrasound imaging information, assisting the surgeon in making a surgical decision.

The following image identifies how important the cross axis image is, as well as describes the degree of rotator cuff injury and approximates the relative number of rotator cuff muscle tendon units thathave been rendered dysfunctional.

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Left, Close to the infraspinatus/supraspinatus interval and insertion site, many fibers are in harm’s way for tendon/fibril tearing. Center, The area for careful X-axis grid examination, looking for possible partial undersurface tearing, fibers losing their connection/attachment to the footplate. Right, Example of an X-axis grid examination of this full thickness tendon tear, which should be accompanied by an x-axis measurement of the width/base of the triangular tear. Real time examination can help to identify the quality of the tissue, which may require repair. Usually, orthopedic surgeons pay more attention to the MRI reading and the coronal views (ultrasound long axis view). (See the 2nd video clip below for real-time imaging of the X-axis rotator cuff tear.) The X-axis view/measurement is the more important image. The wider the tear, the more tendon fibrils are affected and the more dysfunction to the rotator cuff area involved.

This need for diagnostic shoulder ultrasound information could be sufficient and important enough to support an entire career for an MSK sonographer. All the other valuable areas of MSK expertise that come with the MSK sonographer would be an extra bonus to the orthopedic office practice: helping with other ultrasound examinations, diagnosis, and surgical decisions.

Video clip 3 below is an MSK ultrasound examination for CTS identifying median nerve mobility or restriction within the tissue, questioning the presence of scar tissue restricting motion.

 

How have you used ultrasound in orthopedic surgery? What other areas of ultrasound are on the brink of emerging in a new field? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Alan Solomon, MD, is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Honorary Staff at the Metro West Medical Center, Natick/Framingham, MA.

 

Interdisciplinary Education and Training in MSK Ultrasound

In my primary specialty of occupational medicine there is a need for practical education in musculoskeletal ultrasound for both diagnostic evaluation and therapeutic interventional guidance. Incorporation of this into education has begun recently and is continuing in the specialty. A wide variety of specialties are represented in occupational medicine, including many specialists who move into the field after a mid-career transition.

Interestingly, over the last few years clinicians have approached me and asked me to help them learn musculoskeletal ultrasound from many different disciplines outside of occupational medicine. These have included emergency medicine, orthopedics, rheumatology, sports medicine, family medicine, radiology, palliative care, and physical medicine and rehabilitation. When inquiring into why these clinicians are seeking training in this modality it seems that the consistent answer is thdr-sayeedat medical students are graduating and insisting on using ultrasound in their residency training. It would seem that many of our medical students are learning ultrasound at a rate that will outpace attending physician knowledge, exposure, and experience. Indeed, when teaching ultrasound to many of the medical students at West Virginia University as part of their medical education, I was astounded to see how proficient they were at using the machine, the transducer, and correctly identifying both normal and pathologic anatomy. It’s my understanding that many universities have included medical ultrasound into the academic curricula as a bridge to their respective gross anatomy courses and in their general clinical medical education.

Ultrasound is a modality utilized by many medical specialties for various indications. Several specialties outside of radiology, including the ones above, utilize ultrasound. Increasingly, residency programs are integrating ultrasound into their ACGME-accredited curriculum and, importantly, medical students are also learning the benefits of using the modality. It seems clear that despite the number of pitfalls, hurdles, and difficulties using ultrasound, the modality has proven to be an asset in clinical settings and has become a permanent fixture in hospital and clinical settings. The benefits of utilizing ultrasound have been well documented across many academic medical journals. I believe that medicine, as a whole, has done well to embrace the modality, however, there seems to be another vital step to take in the education arena to more fully integrate the modality into our patient’s care.

Currently, most education models for teaching ultrasound, whether it is for residents or medical students, involves grouping like kind together. Emergency residents learn it in the emergency medicine didactics. Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) residents learn it from demonstrations in their own didactics, and so on. Perhaps approaching the curriculum from a more inclusive perspective, however, would be more beneficial for residents and fellows. I, personally, had experience teaching an integrated musculoskeletal course at West Virginia University. The idea, admittedly, was born out of necessity. Physicians experienced in ultrasound from sports medicine, emergency medicine and occupational medicine created and executed a curriculum to teach musculoskeletal ultrasound and invited residents from other specialties. The interest we were able to garner quite frankly surprised me. Although the curriculum was targeted to occupational medicine residents the interest in using musculoskeletal ultrasound was widespread. Residents from specialties like emergency medicine, radiology, family medicine, internal medicine, and orthopedics attended our sessions.

While the course was a success, introducing an integrated curriculum across medical specialties posed a new set of challenges. My specialty was able to use dedicated didactic time for the education but many other specialties have disparate educational time. Many residents could not make all of the sessions and many more could not make any sessions because of fixed residency schedules. This makes coordination very difficult. As I have pondered this over the last few months I believe that educational leaders should begin to form structured educational collaborative time for activities like education in musculoskeletal ultrasound. Each discipline will be able to contribute to teaching to ensure high quality evidence-based curriculum for residents learning ultrasound. Each discipline has their individual strengths and collaboration ensures coordination and even learning amongst instructors. Integrating medicine has been a goal of thought leaders in medicine at the very highest levels and can be replicated for the instruction and training of our resident physicians.

Another option is to allow residents to attend the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine’s annual conference where interdisciplinary education in ultrasound occurs. This conference even has a day for collegial competition among medical students and schools. In fact, the courses are created to encourage engagement in the education and training of clinicians at all levels of training. The overall goal is to advance the education and training in this modality and hope that education leaders begin to encourage collaboration in a much larger scale thus achieving integrated medical care that provides a building block to lead to high quality evidence-based medical care for our patients, families, and communities.

What other areas of ultrasound education have room to grow? How would you recommend making changes? Do you have any stories from your own education to share? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Yusef Sayeed, MD, MPH, MEng, CPH, is a Fellow at Deuk Spine Institute, Melbourne, FL.

Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome

In a study funded in part by AIUM’s Endowment for Education and Research, Jon Jacobson, MD, and his team from the University of Michigan set out to determine the effectiveness of percutaneous tendon eer_logo_textsidefor treatment of gluteal tendinosis. The full results of this study were recently published in the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine.

Greater trochanteric pain syndrome is a condition that most commonly affects middle-aged and elderly women but can also affect younger, and more active, individuals. It has been shown that the underlying etiology for greater trochanteric pain syndrome is most commonly tendinosis or a tendon tear of the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, or both at the greater trochanter and that tendon inflammation (or tendinitis) is not a major feature. This condition can be quite debilitating and often does not respond to conservative management.

Treatment of greater trochanteric pain syndrome should therefore include treatment of the underlying tendon condition. Ultrasound-guided percutaneous needle fenestration (or tenotomy) has been used to effectively treat underlying tendinosis and tendon tears, including tendons about the hip and pelvis. Similarly, autologous platelet-rich plasma (PRP), often combined with tendon fenestration, has been used throughout the body to treat tendinosis and tendon tears.

Although studies have shown patient improvement with PRP treatment, the true effectiveness of this treatment compared to other treatments remains uncertain. Although percutaneous ultrasound-guided tendon fenestration has been shown to be effective about the hip and pelvis, there are no data describing the use of PRP for treatment of gluteal tendons, and there is no study comparing the effectiveness of each treatment for gluteal tendinopathy. The purpose of this blinded prospective clinical trial was to compare ultrasound-guided tendon fenestration and PRP for treatment of gluteus tendinosis or partial-thickness tears in greater trochanteric pain syndrome.

We designed a study in which patients with symptoms of greater trochanteric pain syndrome and ultrasound findings of gluteal tendinosis or a partial tear (<50% depth) were blinded and treated with ultrasound-guided fenestration or autologous PRP injection of the abnormal tendon. Pain scores were recorded at baseline, week 1, and week 2 after treatment. Retrospective clinic record review assessed patient symptoms.

To break this down a little further, the study group consisted of 30 patients (24 female), of whom 50% were treated with fenestration and 50% were treated with PRP. The gluteus medius was treated in 73% and 67% in the fenestration and PRP groups, respectively. Tendinosis was present in all patients. In the fenestration group, mean pain scores were 32.4 at baseline, 16.8 at time point 1, and 15.2 at time point 2. In the PRP group, mean pain scores were 31.4 at baseline, 25.5 at time point 1, and 19.4 at time point 2. Retrospective follow-up showed significant pain score improvement from baseline to time points 1 and 2 (P < .0001) but no difference between treatment groups (P = .1623). There was 71% and 79% improvement at 92 days (mean) in the fenestration and PRP groups, respectively, with no significant difference between the treatments (P >.99).

These results led us to conclude that both ultrasound-guided tendon fenestration and PRP injection are effective for treatment of gluteal tendinosis, showing symptom improvement in both treatment groups.

What is your experience with treating greater trochanteric pain syndrome? Are you familiar with the Endowment for Education and Research?  Share your thoughts and ideas here and on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Jon A. Jacobson, MD, is Professor of Radiology, Director of the Division of Musculoskeletal Radiology, Assistant Medical Director of Northville Health Center, and Medical Director of Taubman Radiology within the University of Michigan Health System.

Ultrasound Set to Transform Occupational Medicine

There is no question that medical ultrasound is quickly becoming a valuable tool in musculoskeletal (MSK) medicine. Providers are realizing that this modality allows for quick evaluation in the office and even has a higher resolution than MRI. Research shows, for example, that scanning a shoulder to evaluate for a rotator cuff tear is faster, cheaper, and at least as sensitive and specific as ordering an MRI.

dr sayeedWhere using this modality for MSK medicine will have a huge impact is within occupational medicine.

In occupational medicine, we are tasked with providing quality care for patients while simultaneously enabling patients, institutions, corporations, and the overall health care system to save money. For practitioners, MSK ultrasound allows us to accomplish both of these goals. Widely utilized by our counterparts in European medical schools and hospitals, MSK ultrasound’s use in occupational medicine is still in its early stages in the United States. This means that occupational medicine is one specialty that stands to reap significant clinical benefits from its use.

But in order to understand the potential, and to position MSK ultrasound at the forefront of occupational medicine education, I conducted a little research.

Last year, I conducted a survey to learn how many occupational medicine program directors and residents were using MSK ultrasound and how many wanted to use it. The survey results confirmed that it was not widely used in occupational medicine residency programs. In fact, only a couple of programs use it and they do so cursorily.  The results also showed that most had a sincere interest in learning to use it, but there was not a program in place.

Since residency programs produce the field’s future physicians, I designed a multidisciplinary MSK ultrasound course to teach the basics to attendings and residents. Weekly sessions focused on specific anatomic regions to help provide a foundation for identifying pathology and improve interventional skills. This “how to” manuscript was recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Moving forward, I am presenting an introductory level lecture at the occupational medicine national conference (AOHC) to further demonstrate how MSK ultrasound could potentially be widely used in our field. I hope to introduce “hands-on” workshops over the course of the next few years to give the field a chance to learn this modality and implement it into practice. My goals are to see occupational medicine practitioners provide the highest standard of health care for this unique hardworking population of patients, while concurrently reducing costs for workers’ compensation claims.

What can AIUM provide occupational medicine to help further the use of ultrasound? What other areas are on the verge of being transformed by ultrasound? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Yusef Sayeed, MD, MPH, MEng, CPH, is an occupational medicine Chief Resident at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV.

Why I Attended AIUM’s MSK Course

In late 2014, I attended the AIUM MSK ultrasound course that was held at the USOC facilities in Colorado Springs. Why, you might ask? Well, here are four reasons I did.

  1. Focus—I do a lot of MSK ultrasound (I have my RMSK and my practice is AIUM accredited) but I do not see a lot of hand and wrist. Since the focus was going to be on upper extremity I felt that this would be a chance to get a good review of hand, wrist and elbow.
  2. USOCKiller faculty—Jay Smith, Lev Nazarian, Tony Bouffard and Jon Jacobson were all on the schedule. Combine them with a limited number of attendees and I knew I would get to interact with them on a more personal level.
  3. Great format—The way the content was structured really appealed to me. I like how we had a lecture, followed immediately by a live scan and then the ability to scan patients. It was excellent and really brought the lecture material right into practice.
  4. Location and price—I had never been to Colorado Springs, much less the Olympic training center. And when I looked at how focused the course was as well as the faculty, I felt the price was very reasonable—especially with the option of staying on site.

For me, the thing that stood out most at the course was getting an appreciation for scanning the scapholunate ligament (SLL). My scanning preceptor was very adept at showing us how to visualize the ligament and how to easily locate it. When I went back to the office and actually had an SLL injection, I was able to do it effectively and get my patient good relief.

I hope that if or when the AIUM does this course again, or another MSK course, they keep the number of participants limited and the topics varied. At some point, I think the course could become stratified so that whether you are at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level, you can participate and learn. Personally I’d like to see a course focusing on the hip and spine with injections.

All in all, given the hosts, the course faculty, the limited number of attendees and topic scope, the price and location, this was one of the best MSK ultrasound courses that I’ve attended.

What’s the best course you have attended? How can AIUM make its courses better? Have you heard about AIUM’s newest MSK Course? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Amadeus Mason, MD, is Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Family Medicine at Emory Sports Medicine Center in Atlanta.