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Ultrasound Advances to Bedside for Routine Diagnoses

Ultrasound (


Clinicians at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut report on advances in ultrasound technology that make it a tool used increasingly for specialties outside of radiology. Yale medical school faculty members Christopher Moore and Joshua Copel describe these advances in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (paid subscription required).

Ultrasound — a safe and non-invasive form of imaging — is based on the same principles behind sonar developed for ships at sea. As sound passes through the body it produces echoes, which can identify the distance, size, and shape of objects inside. During an examination, a machine called a transducer is used to view an organ and produce pictures. The transducer emits sound and detects the returning echoes when it is placed on or over the body part being studied.

Moore and Copel say the use of ultrasonography has increased across a variety of specialties, with the biggest growth seen among non-radiologists. They report that ultrasound technology has become more compact, higher in quality, and less expensive. These advances in the technology have in turn led to more point-of-care ultrasonography, performed and interpreted by the clinician at the bedside.

The authors caution that these advances need to be matched with protocols to prevent incorrect or overuse of the technology. “More imaging could simply lead to increased expense without added benefit, or might even be harmful without appropriate training and quality assurance,” said Moore. “As this technology grows, we need a better understanding of when and how it can be used effectively and competently.”

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