Rare and Sometimes Disappearing: The Tough Life of the Sonographic Expert

Everyday obstetricians hear the same questions: “Is my baby OK?” “Is there anything abnormal?” or, and this is may be the worst, “Should I be worried about anything?”

While innocent enough, these questions get for far more difficult when you consider that in the patient’s mind sonographic experts should be able to “see everything.” For Hershkovitz scanpatients, ultrasound has become a routine obstetrical practice that experts should be able to use to perform every type of diagnosis at the earliest gestational age—with 100% accuracy. This perception, however, means that developmental anomalies or disappearing findings are very confusing for the patient and her spouse.
An example of such a confusing sonographic condition is prenatal diagnosis of congenital lung lesions. One of the rarest lung lesions is Congenital Lobar Emphysema (CLE). This is a rare developmental anomaly of the lower respiratory tract characterized by hyperinflation of one or more of the pulmonary lobes and subsequent air trapping. The main fetal sonographic features of CLE include a bright echogenic lung with or without cystic or mixed cystic lesions (see image) without abnormal blood flow. A mediastinal shift, polyhydramnios, and fetal hydrops can also be observed and are predictors of severe respiratory distress or mortality.

CLE can decrease in size during pregnancy and even disappear on prenatal sonography or become apparent at postnatal evaluation, even though it is not observed during pregnancy. This can, obviously, become confusing for the patient. The main differential diagnosis of CLE is with congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation, pulmonary sequestration, and congenital high airway obstruction syndrome (CHAOS).

Once such a diagnosis is suspected, the patient is usually invited to a multidisciplinary meeting with the pediatric pulmonologypulmonologist, geneticist, and surgeon. Evaluation of the fetus is usually performed every 2 weeks and sometimes prenatal MRI is also suggested.

In many cases, depending on the size of the CLE and whether the fetus is hydropic by the time the fetus is delivered, the neonate is not in respiratory distress immediately after birth. However, sometimes CLE can lead to neonatal respiratory distress, and these neonates need to undergo surgical resection of the affected lobe. In the past, this has meant open thoracotomy, although recent advances in minimally invasive thoracoscopic surgery have resulted in decreased morbidity associated with resection of these lesions.

While innocent enough, the question, “Should I be worried about anything?” can get confusing and difficult when dealing with conditions like CLE. How would you handle it?

In a case like this how would you answer the question, “Should I be worried about anything?” How and when do you provide counseling to patients? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Professor Reli Hershkovitz is the Head of the Ultrasound Unit at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the Soroka University Medical, located in Beer Sheva in the Southern part of Israel. This medical center serves nearly 2 million people, with an average of 16,000 deliveries a year.

Get Rid of That Pain in the Neck in 3 Easy Movements

Have you experienced any of these situations?

  • Your shoulders feel like they are on fire after the first few scans of the day.
  • You have a hard time finding a comfortable sitting position.
  • Your wrist and arms feel like an iron apron has been laid across them.

If so, you are not alone. Nearly 90% of sonographers scan in pain. And of that 90%, nearly 30% will experience so much pain that they will have to find another career. This is an epidemic that must be addressed.

Earlier this year, we posted our first blog that focused on lower body stretches. We did that first because we have found that upper body manifestations can, and often do, occur as a result of lower body issues. Many times, in order to fix shoulder, neck, and back pain, we start by looking at the legs and hips. As we like to say, “train movement, not muscles.” To stay in line with that concept of not just training a muscle and one area, we want to share 3 easy movements that can help with neck, shoulder, and back pain.

  1. Overhead Reach
    1. Sitting at your desk, or standing behind your chair, take both arms and reach overhead as high as possible, with palms facing in and thumbs pointing behind you.
    2. As you extend your arms overhead, push your shoulders back (think pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades!).
    3. Now keep reaching as high as you can while exhaling as if you are blowing out a huge candle, actually 5 huge candles. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
    4. This should open up your chest, allowing you to breathe easier while at the same time relieving stress and strain from your neck and shoulders.#3
  2. Thumbs Back Reach
    1. Again, sitting at your desk, or standing behind your chair, take both arms and extend them down by your side.
    2. This time, open the palms to the outside, rotating the hands so the thumb is again pointing behind you.
    3. Again, pinch the shoulders back (think of pinching that pencil between the shoulder blades!) and sit or stand as tall as possible.#6.
    4. Now keep reaching back as far as you can while at the same time blowing out those five huge candles! Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
    5. This is another great movement to open up your chest and allow you to breathe easier while at the same time relieving stress and strain from your neck and shoulders.
  3.  Head To Shoulder Reach
    1. In a seated or standing position, simply make yourself as tall as possible. With this movement, think that someone is taking you by the hair and pulling straight up!
    2. At the same time, push the shoulders down and back – pinch that pencil!
    3. Slowly tilt your head toward the top of your shoulder. Try to place your ear on top of your shoulder.
    4.  Now, slowly and gently, rotate your head, working to bring your chin up toward the ceiling, while still trying to keep your ear on your shoulder.
    5. Make sure to do both right and left side to use this movement to get great neck relief and release tension in the muscles in the upper neck/shoulder area!

You can do these movements 2-3 times a day, doing each one, two or three times at a setting (workout!) or any time you start to feel tension build throughout the day!

What stretches do you do? How do you improve your posture? What other areas would you like to see covered? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Doug Wuebben, BA, AS, RDCS, (Adult and Pediatric), FASE, is a registered echocardiographer and also a consultant, international presenter, and author of e-books in the areas of ergonomics, exercise and pain, and injury correction for sonographers.

Mark Roozen, M.Ed, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT, FNSCA, is a strength and performance coach and also the owner and president of Coach Rozy Performance Centers.

Mark and Doug are co-owners of Live Pain Free-The Right Moves consulting company. They can be contacted at livepainfree4u@gmail.com.

A Word of Encouragement

One excellent online teaching tool for emergency ultrasound states that “scientists have been fascinated by the mechanism of acoustics, echoes and sound waves for many

Wake Course 5

Attendees get hands-on experience at AIUM’s Wake Forest 

centuries.”

I am not one of those scientists.

Frankly, I don’t like physics. I find it challenging to understand things I can’t see. Take gravity, for example. I know and can tell quite distinctly that it exists. The scar on my shin following a childhood attempt at flight is a faithful reminder of its existence. It still remains hard for me to understand the intricacies of this force because of its invisibility. To me, this is similar to a lot of physics concepts.

It’s therefore hilarious that I was somehow drawn to ultrasound. It must have been the enticement of being able to see more, although the ability to “see” is granted by what is unseen—ultrasound waves. The joke was definitely on me.

So how did I get here?

My journey with point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) started with a remark by a friend of mine. At the time, she was an emergency medicine resident and she told me about a trauma patient that she had performed a “FAST” on. Close to completing 3 years of Pediatric residency, I had never heard of such a thing. I remained intrigued with the idea of quick decision-making scans performed by the provider actively involved in the patient care. Who wouldn’t want this given the chance? The challenge of course lies in acquiring the knowledge.

Things now got interesting.

During my Pediatric Emergency Medicine (PEM) fellowship, I sought to learn more about POCUS. My initiation was not spectacular to say the least. The words of my instructors bounced off the surface of my brain with very little being absorbed. This would have been OK if I were an ultrasound machine. It wasn’t very good when trying to learn how to obtain and interpret ultrasound images however.

By the second and third lesson, I was convinced that I would never learn ultrasound. But as in the majority of love stories, persistence paid off.

Gradually my images changed from what resembled a 1970s television screen after midnight to recognizable structures. By the end of my PEM fellowship, I had acquired a few rudimentary skills. I took an opportunity to pursue an Emergency ultrasound fellowship immediately after my PEM fellowship and the dread of my early ultrasound learning days came upon me again. So many applications, so little understanding.

One day as I scanned a patient, “Eureka!” I finally understood the parasternal long axis. There was hope for me yet.

How did I finally get here?

  1. Persistence – The old adage holds true. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.When the words or explanation didn’t make sense, I would try a video (YouTube has some great videos). I would get models of structures to understand the anatomy and relate to them to my scans. I would seek out others to explain concepts in different ways to help my understanding.
  2. Memorization – This provided a foundation and served as the means to the end. When using POCUS, there is a lot to remember and you have to put in the necessary study time.

Finally, I was able to understand what was going on and what the picture was telling or NOT telling me. I also learned not to beat myself up for not understanding everything. That is what colleagues, mentors, online resources, and practice are for.

I now understand a lot of POCUS–more than I ever imagined or thought possible. I didn’t let my dislike of physics or the challenge of image recognition stop me. I figured if others could learn this, I should at least give it a decent shot. And that’s what I ask of those I teach or anyone interested in learning.

What would you tell someone starting to learn ultrasound? What aspect was most difficult for you? How did you overcome it? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Atim Uya, MD, is the Point of Care Ultrasound Director, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego/Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego, California.

3 Stretches All Sonographers Should Do

Have you ever thought about how you stand? Or how you hold a transducer? Or how you position yourself over your patient? Incorrect positioning in any form could increase your risk of pain and injury. Here are three easy exercises sonographers can do—even on the job—to reduce anterior pelvic tilt.

  1. 90/90 Hip Flexor Stretch
    On a mat, kneel down with the front leg up, with the knee at 90 degrees, the back leg is on the ground, but also bent at 90 degrees.  Make sure to tightening up the Hip flexorabdominal area. Then move your hips forward, maintaining shoulders back. You are looking for a stretch in front of the hip.You will feel the stretch in the front of your hip and the thigh. You are looking for a light stretch. You are not trying to rip the muscle apart. Hold that for about 20 to 30 seconds twice on each side, first the right leg, then the left. Alternate back and forth for the two sets.
  1. Side Lying Quad Stretch
    Lying on your side, reach back and grab the foot of the top leg with the same arm as the leg you are bending (i.e., right hand grabs right foot). As you grab the foot, bring the heel towards the butt. The key here is not to just pull the heel to the butt, but bring the thigh back a little bit in order to intensify the stretch in the front of the thigh and the front of the hip.stretch 2Think: Hold for 20 seconds as a light stretch and do it twice on each side alternating. Right leg first, then roll to the other side and do the left leg. Repeat.
  1. Deep Squat Stretch
    Stand up tall with a wider stance than shoulder width. From that position, squat down with hips below the knees. In the bottom position, place the elbows between the squatknees and then push the knees out with the elbows. You are looking for a stretch in the inner thigh and hips.This position and pressure will end up changing the position in the lower back and in the pelvis from an anterior tilt to a posterior tilt.  Doing just like the other stretches: 20- to 30-second hold, twice.

No matter what your occupation, a certain level of stretching and regular exercise will help reduce your risk of injury. This is especially true for sonographers. Please consult your physician (even if you are one) before beginning an exercise program.

What stretches do you do? How do you improve your posture? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Doug Wuebben BA, AS, RDCS (Adult and Pediatric) is a registered echocardiographer and also a consultant, national presenter, and author of e-books in the areas of ergonomics, exercise and pain, and injury correction for sonographers.

Mark Roozen M.ed, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT, FNSCA, is a strength and performance coach and also the owner and president of Performance Edge Training Systems (PETS).

Handle the Scan with Care

Anytime one begins an obstetrical scan, there is a ritual that precedes our privileged access into an otherwise inaccessible place pulsating with life, hope and promise. The trilogy of preparing the patient, applying the gel, and selecting the transducer helps us transition as we open a window to the womb, sharing a highly anticipated and treasured moment with the family.

old windowWhile this privileged access may provide priceless reassurance, it is accompanied by a huge responsibility for the sonologist who is attempting to make sense of what is seen while trying to decide how to share the information with the family.

As diagnosticians, we are taught to be vigilant, careful and meticulous, making note of every single finding. We employ the most sophisticated machines and the importance of being non-paternalistic is deeply engrained in our brains. Yet at the same time, care and caring must come into play if we need to break news that may shatter dreams or induce significant parental anxiety.

Personally I find that the most challenging cases are those in which various isolated sonographic markers may be detected. The struggle between wanting to be scientific, factual and transparent and the fear of labeling an otherwise healthy being and worrying a hopeful parent becomes paramount. This is becoming more commonplace nowadays with the advancing technology as we delve into fetal evaluations with much more detail and at earlier points in gestation. We must not mistake normal developmental findings with pathology. We must be careful with enhanced image resolution and the employment of harmonics as these may increase tissue echogenicity and lead to over diagnosis of physiologic “cysts” in fluid producing structures.

With the continuing advancement of the technological capabilities of this most versatile of medical diagnostic modalities and its evolving portability, the number of probe-handlers globally is increasing exponentially across the disciplines. The problem is that education, training and experience are not uniform. The expertise to discuss the implications of various sonographic findings, particularly soft markers, and to recognize serious abnormalities, may be lacking. Despite the well-established positive impact of prenatal diagnosis, allowing us to prepare families and formulate the optimal plan of care, it may also be a double-edged sword, particularly in inexperienced hands.  As such, and in keeping with the mission of the AIUM and its communities of practice, the importance of proper training cannot be overstated. One must adhere to the basic sonographic teachings, employ the ALARA principle, and implement practice parameters when incorporating sonography into daily clinical practice. Referral to centers of excellence, whenever there may be doubt, is critical. Sound judgment remains the key to utilizing ultrasound first.

A new life is purity in the absolute form: a blank sheet of paper. Much caution must be exercised before any marks are made. Every word uttered has the potential of tainting the page, of taking away hope, of falsely “labeling” this promising life before it has even come into physical being. “First do no harm” should continue to echo in our brains and we must always proceed with caution, and tread with care.

What’s your opinion on the quality issue? Do you see a wide range of quality in ultrasound scanning?  Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Reem S. Abu-Rustum, MD, FACOG, FACS, FAIUM, is the Director of the Center For Advanced Fetal Care in Tripoli, Lebanon. She has served the AIUM in several capacities, including her current role on the AIUM Board of Governors.

  • Image adapted from A Practical Guide to 3D Ultrasound. RS Abu-Rustum. CRC Press 2015.

Simulators Role in Ultrasound Training

I believe the future of health care will involve the expanded use of diagnostic ultrasound, which will be accomplished through the use of an enhanced version of today’s handheld ultrasound scanner. I envision this “sono-scope” to be a wireless, lightweight, handheld imaging device with a long battery life and high-quality image capture that will expand the capabilities of the stethoscope.

The compact, portable ultrasoundpedersen_image scanners began entering the medical imaging marketplace around year 2000. Since then the market has grown dramatically, and the portable scanners have bifurcated into two broad groups: (i) The pocket-sized or handheld scanners (HHUS) and (ii) the larger, full-featured point-of-care ultrasound systems (POCUS).

These devices provide doctors with an extension of their senses and augment existing tools. But to be truly transformational, users need to receive ultrasound training from the beginning of their medical career, which will allow them quickly to “rule in” and “rule out” possible diagnoses and lead to earlier treatment decisions and/or more relevant further tests.

I maintain that the main barrier for making the HHUS (and POCUS) every clinician’s examination tool of choice, is not the technology, but rather the lack of opportunity to acquire and develop the needed scanning skills.

Thus, finding training strategies that enable the integration of ultrasound into medical schools is an essential step in overcoming this barrier. If the next generation of doctors had ultrasound for diagnosis and guided procedures as a vital part of their training, they would quickly develop a natural comfort with this tool and, with time, increasing sophistication. A parallel can be drawn regarding the attitude toward acquiring computer skills. As recent as 40 years ago, the operation of computers was thought to be limited to a select, carefully trained group of specialists. Today, nearly everyone is able to operate computers at some level.

Effective training in medical ultrasound requires both clinical knowledge (understanding of anatomy, physiology, and pathology) and scanning skills (psycho-motor skills, which are the integration of motion and the mental processes of recognizing anatomic structures in 3D from the 2D images). While both clinical knowledge and scanning skills are essential, the former is often emphasized at the expense of the latter because clinical knowledge can be delivered cost effectively and in flexible formats through online courses (including MOOCs), self-study, and in traditional classroom courses. Scanning skills, on the other hand, are acquired through hands-on experience, by examining patients, preferably both healthy and with symptoms, under the guidance of an experienced sonographer. Here, the medical educational enterprise does not currently have the capacity to meet this training need. There are too few scanners available for learners to use. There are too few patients or human subjects in general available for scanning. Last but not least, there are too few qualified instructors who can guide the learning.

There exists a potentially effective approach to overcoming this limitation in delivering scanning skills training: The use of ultrasound training simulators. Simulation provides a controlled and safe practice environment to promote learning. The efficacy of the simulator-based training is well-established. For example, human errors related to airline accidents have decreased in large part due to flight simulator training. Likewise, high-fidelity medical simulations have been shown to be educationally effective, as evidenced by the strong correlation between surgical simulator training and improved outcomes. Several studies have demonstrated the learning value of simulator-based training in diagnostic ultrasound.

Just as HHUS and POCUS have proliferated over the last 15 years, so have ultrasound simulator products. Some training simulators cover multiple clinical specialties, while others are designed for a specific application. Typically, the learner scans a physical manikin with a realistic-looking sham transducer, which produces an image on the display corresponding to the position and orientation of the sham transducer on the manikin, along with an anatomy display of the location of the image plane through the body.

An important component of the simulator design is the degree to which the simulator provides structured learning with guidance, interaction, and assessment. While all simulators include educational modules, only a few offer self-paced learning and competence verification. All in all, today’s ultrasound simulators are sophisticated devices that are capable of meeting training needs on basic and even intermediate levels. However, because the purchase price is sufficiently high (from $10K to more than $100K) sonography programs and simulation centers at larger hospitals are typically the only facilities able to acquire this technology.

When the medical community is ready to embrace ultrasound as an imaging modality of first choice for doctors from all specialties, I am convinced that technological innovation will lead to affordable, yet customizable and realistic training simulators. In particular, what is needed are portable and lightweight simulators that run on ordinary, modern PC/laptops, making personal ownership of a simulator possible as well as allowing medical schools to purchase such simulators in large quantities. For individualized training, it is essential that the simulator be task-based and able to verify the acquired skills level. To deliver the best realism, the image material should preferably be acquired directly from human subjects, and to provide the optimal development and assessment of psychomotor skills, the scanning practice on the simulator should resemble actual patient scanning as closely as possible. Such low-cost training simulators can lay the groundwork for building up such ultrasound skills both among practicing specialists and students enrolled in medical schools.

Have you/do you use simulators in your ultrasound training? What are the advantages or disadvantages? What would make simulation training better? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Peder C. Pedersen is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Why I Applied to be an AIUM Fellow

Working in an academic department, we are encouraged to become involved in the ultrasound community as well as keep abreast of the constantly changing field of sonography. After attending my first AIUM Annual Convention early in my career, I quickly realized that the AIUM was an organization in which I wanted to become more involved. The knowledge base was high and many of the members were and still are leaders in research, clinical work and patient care. It was confirmation that I make an impact on patient outcomes every time I pick up a transducer.

TBpixAs a reflection of that, I wanted to grow in my AIUM membership. I took the first step in 2005 when I applied for senior membership status, which I was happy and proud to be awarded in the spring of 2006. It took me several years to take the next step, but after meeting the membership requirements, I applied to be an AIUM Fellow. It was a great feeling when I was notified that I had joined the exclusive ranks of AIUM Fellow.

Going through this process was both a professional and personal goal. It was and is an honor to be individually recognized by my peers on both a national and international level.

For those of you interested, the overall application process was straightforward and didn’t take a lot of time to complete. It was pretty clear and straightforward. Plus, the AIUM staff was excellent in keeping me updated on the process and deadlines. There were definitely times when I needed a reminder.

We are all busy with our professional and personal lives; however, I am excited and proud to have taken the steps to illustrate to myself and my peers how much I value my career in ultrasound. I appreciate the AIUM for identifying the substantial effort ultrasound professionals put forth daily for the accurate diagnosis and safety of patients.

What’s your membership story? What accomplishment are you most proud of? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Teresa Bieker, MBA, RT, RDMS, RVT, RDCS, FAIUM, is Lead Diagnostic Medical Sonographer at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Only 260 AIUM members have applied and been granted the distinction of being an AIUM Fellow.