Sonographers and Contrast-Enhanced Ultrasound

Now that contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) has been approved in the United States for several abdominal applications in adults and pediatrics, I decided to take a deeper look into the sonographer’s role in CEUS. Traditionally, sonographers perform ultrasound examinations based on a protocol, construct a preliminary ultrasound findings worksheet, and perhaps discuss the findings with a radiologist. And now CEUS has transformed traditional ultrasound and gives physicians and sonographers additional diagnostic information related to the presence and patterns of contrast enhancement.DSC00125

Based on sonographers’ traditional scope of practice, some questions came to mind. What is the training process for sonographers to learn CEUS? How should CEUS images be obtained and stored? How should CEUS findings be communicated?

I envision CEUS training for sonographers broken down into stages, where they begin by learning the basics and eventually transition to where they can perform and record the studies independently. The first stage for sonographers is the ‘CEUS learning curve.’ In this stage, sonographers become familiar with basic CEUS concepts, eg, understanding physics of contrast agents and contrast-specific image acquisition modes, CEUS protocols, and typical patterns of contrast enhancement seen in various organs. In addition, an important part of the training is recognizing contrast reactions, and learning IV placement, documentation and billing related to CEUS.

The next stage involves sonographers performing more patient care and gaining scanning responsibilities. Sonographers place the IV and prepare the contrast agent. The scope of sonographer responsibilities does not generally include contrast injection (although it is reasonable since CT, MR, nuclear medicine, and echocardiography technologists routinely place IV lines and inject contrast). It should be noted that CEUS examination usually requires an additional person (physician, nurse, or another sonographer) to assist with contrast injection while the sonographer performs the ultrasound examination. In the beginning of sonographer training, it is very beneficial to have a radiologist present in the room to guide scanning and appropriate image recording.

In the third stage, a well-trained sonographer is more independent. At the completion of the examination, the sonographer will either send clips or still images to a physician to document the CEUS findings and discuss the procedure. Ideally a worksheet is filled out, comparable to what is done today with “regular” ultrasound.

The majority of CEUS examinations are performed based on pre-determined protocols, usually requiring a 30–60-sec cineloop to document contrast wash-in and arterial phase enhancement. After that continuous scanning should be terminated and replaced with intermittent acquisition of short 5–10-sec cineloops obtained every 30–60 sec to document late phase contrast enhancement. These short clips have the advantage of limiting stored data while providing the interpreting physician with real-time imaging information. Detailed information on liver imaging CEUS protocols could be found in the recently published technical guidelines of the ACR CEUS LI-RADS committee.[i] Some new users might acquire long 2–3-minute cineloops instead, producing massive amounts of CEUS data. As a result, studies can slow down a PACS system if departments are not equipped to deal with large amounts of data. In addition, prolonged continuous insonation of large areas of vascular tissue could result in significant ultrasound contrast agent degradation limiting our ability to detect late wash-out, a critical diagnostic parameter required to diagnose well differentiated HCC. Any solution requires identifying and capturing critical moments, which will be determined by a sonographer’s expertise. Exactly how sonographers can ensure CEUS will successfully capture the most important images is a critical question that must be answered and standardized.

Ideally, leading academic institutions should provide CEUS training for physicians and sonographers. I have seen and attended CEUS continuing medical education courses and they are a great way for physicians and sonographers to learn CEUS imaging. CEUS is a step forward for sonographers and will potentially transform our scope of practice. The technology will advance the importance of sonographers and diagnostic ultrasound, and importantly it will improve the care of our patients.

Acknowledgements:
Dr. Laurence Needleman, MD
Dr. Andrej Lyshchik, MD
Dr. John Eisenbrey, PhD
Joanna Imle, RDMS, RVT

[i] Lyshchik A, Kono Y, Dietrich CF, Jang HJ, Kim TK, Piscaglia F, Vezeridis A, Willmann JK, Wilson SR. Contrast-enhanced ultrasound of the liver: technical and lexicon recommendations from the ACR CEUS LI-RADS working group. Abdom Radiol (NY). 2017 Nov 18. doi: 10.1007/s00261-017-1392-0. [Epub ahead of print]

Has CEUS helped your sonography career? How do you envision CEUS being incorporated in your work? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Corinne Wessner BS, RDMS, RVT is the Research Sonographer for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Corinne has an interest in contrast-enhanced ultrasound, ultrasound research, medical education, and sonographer advocacy.

To My Fellow Sonographers

Dear fellow sonographers,

I am proud to say that I have worked as a sonographer since 1983 and have been on an incredible journey for 34 years. I started out at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, as a radiologic technologist and had the privilege to work on the job as a sonographer. I have evolved, grown, and through my profession I have continued to educate myself. When I passed the ARDMS certification in 1984, I decided that I would continue to set goals for myself and keep my career in ultrasound exciting and challenging.

Over the next 33 years, I worked in a Radiology office, in private practice, and in maternal fetal medicine. Now, I am honored to be part of the American Institute of Ultrasound (AIUM). So, why am I saying all this? Because I now want to encourage all of you to use my experiences to take your profession to the next level.

My personal goal is to educate sonographers. To encourage sonographers to love their jobs and be the best. Times have changed, especially in the ultrasound world. Doing an OB exam and showing only a 4-chamber heart is no longer enough. Now, we are expected to do outflow tracts, aorta, ductus, and sometimes the infamous 3-vessel trachea view.

If you are asking what is the 3-vessel trachea view? Well, let me just tell you about this amazing cardiac image. If you can acquire and document a normal 3-vessel trachea you can rule out Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA), Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), and Right-sided Aortic Arch. You can also be the hero of the office when you go to your doctor at your practice and say “Hey, the 3-vessel trachea view looks abnormal, what do you think?” Not only will you impress them and possibly save a life, but you will earn respect and, hopefully, you are reminded as to why you wanted to be a sonographer in the first place.

I have always loved my job and continue to learn every day. There is a whole world of ultrasound information out there. I challenge you to go beyond what you know to get the job done, be the best, and always treat your patient as your best friend, whoever that might be. My challenge for you is to read about the 3-vessel trachea view and, if it is not a part of your daily OB routine, add it.

Please join me and expand your education!

Haylea Weiss, RDMS (AB FE OB/GYN)
American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine

Apply for AIUM’s new Sonographer Scholarship Grant, a program that provides $500 and free registration to an AIUM post-graduate event. Applications due March 1.

Internal Medicine and Bedside Ultrasound–A Match Made in Heaven

I am an internist who does bedside ultrasound. This has not always been true. From 1986, when I got my MD from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, to November 2011, I was a traditional internist, taking care of a panel of patients in a small university town in Idaho. I saw my patients in the office when they could walk or wheel in with their problems and in the hospital when they were sicker. I took call for my partners on rotating weekends and holidays. I occasionally ordered ultrasounds and echocardiograms and thought of them as blurry representations of internal structures that could be magically interpreted by radiologists.

In 2011, events such as the growing up of our 2 children allowed me to reconsider my choices of what to do with my MD. I had always wanted to do medicine in resource-poor settings overseas. I had often been curious about locum tenens work in other states, which would involve adventure and exposure to new practice styles and surprisingly generous compensation compared to my predominantly outpatient practice. I also had an urge to binge on continuing medical education courses, which I had denied myself for years due to responsibilities at home.

Janice Boughton, MD

One of the CME courses I treated myself to was an introductory course in emergency ultrasound through Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital. It was wonderfully taught and I was immediately hooked. Ultrasound at the bedside would transform my practice and had the potential to transform the whole practice of internal medicine! The Cupid of bedside ultrasound had sunk his arrow straight between my eyes.

I went on to take more courses in bedside ultrasound both in person and online and bought myself a small pocket ultrasound which rapidly developed my imaging skills. I began to use ultrasound clinically as a diagnostic tool within weeks of my first exposure. I discovered over-expanded bladders, failing hearts, pleural effusions, ascites, or lack thereof in my patients with big bellies. I became a better doctor, and enjoyed my job more. My patients were happy to have benefitted from what looked to them like Star Trek technology.

I expected at any point that someone in the diverse hospitals where I served as a locum tenens hospitalist would ask for my credentials or forbid me to use ultrasound. I expected skepticism by cardiologists with whom I worked. I expected radiologists to be upset at me. I even did a 1-month UC Irvine mini-fellowship and ARDMS certification as a sonographer. These experiences gave me a vast amount more expertise and confidence, but were mostly to ward off imagined disapproval. Yet nobody ever made me present my certification. Nobody disapproved to my face except one radiologist, who I’m still working on. Cardiology consultants were tickled to get imaging information in addition to history and vital signs. I may have benefitted from being in hospitals where people were too busy taking care of patients to fuss with me. It really seemed, though, that the vast majority of people with whom I worked realized that I was a better doctor with an ultrasound than without.

I have gone on to teach bedside ultrasound and participate in research on malaria and schistosomiasis with medical students in Tanzania. I have taught basic ultrasound to overburdened healthcare workers and physicians from Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan during its ongoing civil war. Knowing how to teach basic bedside ultrasound means I am valuable in resource poor settings even if I can only stay for a couple of weeks. I have been able to teach my internal medicine colleagues in the US along with residents and medical students, which has been a wonderful opportunity for a nonacademic rural physician.

So what’s my point here? As an “early adopter” of bedside ultrasound in internal medicine I have made myself a test case. So far these are the results:

  1. It wasn’t too hard to learn enough ultrasound to be a better doctor.
  2. There was never a time when I was too much of a novice to benefit from bedside imaging, yet every time I ultrasound a patient I learn something new. I can’t foresee a time when my learning will be complete.
  3. There has been surprisingly little push-back and a gratifying amount of appreciation.
  4. Bedside ultrasound is the perfect extension of the physical exam in internal medicine. It brought back my joy in physical diagnosis. We should all be doing it!

 

Have you used ultrasound in your internal medicine practice? Have you gone after ultrasound education after obtaining your degree? How can medical education be modified to encourage the widespread use of ultrasound by future internists? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Janice Boughton, MD, is an internist working as a staff Hospitalist at Gritman Medical center as well as is a locum tenens physician at other northwest hospitals. She also supervises and serves in rural health clinics, and blogs about bedside ultrasound and other issues at http://whyisamericanhealthcaresoexpensive.blogspot.com/?m=1.

The National Ultrasound Interest Group (NUSIG)

The National Ultrasound Interest Group (NUSIG) is a student-led organization founded in 2014 to promote ultrasound in undergraduate medical education. You may know us as the force behind planning national level events like SonoSlam. The bulk of NUSIG’s work, however, is sharing education and leadership resources between Ultrasound Interest Groups (USIGs) across the country. Each of the five regional representatives contact medical schools in their areas to exchange ideas, plan co-sponsored events, and see how NUSIG can assist them in evangelizing ultrasound.

SonoSlam_organizers

NUSIG provides everything from information on getting equipment and funding, to original educational content. Our podcast on iTunes (quickly closing on the 1,000 download mark) currently features a journal club series. Each episode is hosted by a different school evaluating an ultrasound-related article.

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Our next series is how to plan an Ultrafest, where we interview schools experienced in putting on these events. Our hope is that these USIGs can learn from each other, and other schools might be inspired to start their own UltraFest once it’s been laid out how. In the future, we aim to collect medical student level ultrasound lectures from across the country and publish them for anyone to view. Our vision is to serve as a central repository for the best medical student educational content available. Lastly, our twitter feed regularly features current ultrasound research articles, and retweets outstanding free open access medical education content.

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If you want to learn more about us or get involved, check out our website at www.nationalusig.com, and follow us on twitter and Facebook @NtlUSIG. You can find us on iTunes by searching for “NUSIG podcast.”

Are you a member of the National Ultrasound Interest Group? Did you attend this year’s SonoSlam? If so, share your thoughts and feedback. Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Mat Goebel is in charge of Social Media for the National Ultrasound Interest Group and is a medical student at University of California at San Diego.

Excellence in Education

It is an honor to receive the 2017 Peter H. Arger, MD, Excellence in Medical Student Education Award. I am fortunate to know Dr. Arger and recognize his remarkable achievements in education, accreditation, and leadership in ultrasound. It’s my great privilege to work with different students, whether they are medical students, residents, fellows, sonography students, vascular technology students, or physicians of different medical specialties. I have had many great teachers and mentors toJohn_Pellerito learn from. Some of my favorite teachers like Barry Goldberg, Ken Taylor, Chris Merritt, and Peter Arger have the gift to communicate complex ideas and make them simple and easy to understand. Teachers at that level inspire me to be the best I can be.

I know there are many educators who understand that feeling when a student “gets it.” The anatomy and physiology that they’ve been studying comes to life. When the ultrasound unit is no longer a confusing mess of dials and buttons and becomes a window into the human body. When they realize that in their hands, ultrasound can make a difference in patient care.

I am lucky to work with  a team of physicians and sonographers who enjoy teaching our medical students. We meet to devise new ways to integrate ultrasound into our longitudinal 4-year ultrasound program. One of the techniques we use to engage our students is to integrate games into our classes. Our SONICS (SONographic Integration of Clinical skills and Structure) faculty has enjoyed putting together ultrasound games for our students. We find that gaming increases their excitement and takes advantage of their competitive edge. One of our latest creations, the Hunger Games (J Ultrasound Med 2017; 36:361–365), has proven very successful.

During this class, we ask one member of each student team to fast prior to a scan of the gallbladder and mesenteric arteries. Following a breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese, the students are rescanned to assess for changes in gallbladder size and mesenteric blood flow. All scanning is performed by the students with faculty guidance. One team is deemed the “winner” and awards are given. The session combines both anatomic and physiologic principles to learn about gastrointestinal and vascular function and incorporate Doppler techniques. This activity provides the foundation for a powerful integration of Doppler ultrasound into medical education.

What are some of the ways that you have engaged your students with fun and interactive ultrasound programs? Do you have any stories from your own education to share? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

John S. Pellerito, MD, is professor of Radiology at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and Vice Chairman of Radiology at Northwell Health.

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.
Kat and Scott

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.

Alien

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.