Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Four Ultrasound Trends to Watch in the New Year | Vitor Rocha | Pulse | LinkedIn



Across the health and technology landscape, we are standing at a pivotal moment in time. While clinicians and healthcare systems face challenges related to aging populations, growing caseloads and less time for direct patient care, artificial intelligence and machine and deep learning hold great promise for transforming the way we will deliver care in the future. And, automation, reproducibility, and portability will create expanded ultrasound applications and users. Already we’re seeing ultrasound become ubiquitous across a wide variety of clinical settings for screening, diagnosis, treatment and surgery. The future of ultrasound has never looked more exciting. While most of these are still a few years away, here are four key trends I see already influencing the way we think about developing and using ultrasound in the future.

 Automating how we acquire images
Although improvements to transducers and visual interfaces have enhanced the usability of ultrasound considerably, today it’s still very user-dependent requiring specific skill, knowledge and experience. To produce the best image possible, a clinician must carefully position the transducer in just the right spot, apply and adjust pressure and change the settings, which takes time and practice.
Advances in machine learning will remove some of the dependency of adjusting image acquisition settings and help speed image acquisition. We can expect to see more software that’s trained to identify specific problem areas, which will increase the efficiency of ultrasound exams and allow clinicians to examine many more patients.
Automation also will help us see a lot more images quickly. This will require more sophisticated hardware that can process images faster and software that can identify exactly what the clinician is looking for. Intelligently incorporating anatomically intelligent automation will help the user get the best image possible to gather accurate measurements efficiently.
Even more important than productivity and throughput benefits, I believe a key promise of automated tools is that they could allow clinicians and patients to spend less time conducting and reading the more routine physical exams, freeing up time to focus on the more complicated cases.
Portability breaking down walls
The ability to use ultrasound on-the-go will continue to be a key trend driving healthcare transformation in 2018. We will see even more adoption and implementation of app-based, handheld ultrasounds that don’t compromise image quality. These portable devices can be carried around in a pocket, making them convenient to use in many different settings, including the emergency department, on the sports field, and even for military medicine. It’s truly ultrasound without boundaries.
This change to smaller and more mobile applications is what I like to call “the form factor.” It’s smaller form factors that will help increase ultrasound use among clinicians who do not typically use it as a form of diagnosis. Increasing the mobility of ultrasound opens new doors to provide care beyond the hospital walls. 
A complementary tool for surgery and other imaging modalities
Ultrasound is transforming the way we guide structural heart surgeries. In the past, patients had to go through open heart surgery to get a valve replaced. With the rise of ultrasound use in the catheterization lab, more valve replacements and repairs can be done with minimally invasive surgery, using ultrasound to guide a catheter from the femoral artery up to the heart valve. This is much more cost-effective and helps reduce patient recovery time.
We are now seeing this expand beyond cardiology as ultrasound is used as a guiding tool for liver or breast ablations, as well as for biopsies. These advancements can significantly impact the patient experience. In prostate cancer, for example, ultrasound-guided biopsies provide more certainty to target the right tissue, so the patient only has to undergo three to four biopsies, instead of 18 or more, which was typical in the past. The integration of AI has to the potential to improve techniques even further.
There is tremendous potential to continue adapting the approach to interventions with AI guided procedures, enhancing the patient experience.
Wider adoption around the globe
A particularly exciting trend is that as ultrasound becomes smaller and more intelligent, it also becomes that much more accessible. These advances make it possible for a wide variety of providers who may not traditionally have used ultrasound to have the power of ultrasound at their fingertips, including nurses, midwives, emergency medicine and critical care professionals. In remote areas where healthcare resources are limited, the use of portable ultrasound can make a tremendous impact on both routine and critical care.
Ultrasound is also becoming a powerful standalone tool for prevention. As it becomes more accessible and easy to use, clinicians are adopting ultrasound more widely to screen for things like breast cancer, vascular disease and thyroid disease. In the future, it could also be used to assess stroke risk by imaging carotid plaque.
Overall, I believe these trends in ultrasound will help improve efficiency, bring down costs, and more importantly, give clinicians more time to focus on challenging cases, provide direct patient care and improve the patient experience. But it’s important to remember that even the most exciting advances take time to be evaluated and adopted effectively to preserve clinical confidence. While technological innovations like artificial intelligence and machine learning hold great promise, image quality will always be the foundation of ultrasound. How does that sound?


Four Ultrasound Trends to Watch in the New Year | Vitor Rocha | Pulse | LinkedIn

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