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Digital Technology And The Equine Vet

Portable digital diagnostic equipment has revolutionized the way mobile equine practitioners work.

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Portable digital diagnostic equipment has revolutionized the way mobile equine practitioners work. With diagnostic equipment onboard, veterinarians no longer need to rely on outside clinics for diagnostic tests.  

Tiffany Marr, DVM, of Mid Atlantic Equine Medical in Ringoes, N.J., counts herself fortunate to be in a generation of equine practitioners who can find immediate answers for themselves and their clients in the field.

“Portable ultrasound in particular has given ambulatory vets a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “Did the horse really incur a suspensory injury, have suspensory desmitis, and how bad is it? Does this foal have an infected umbilicus, does it need surgery or can it be managed medically?

“We can now gather and exchange important information today, not next week when we get [the horse] referred. And if the practitioner is not associated with a clinic, then they are not passing up the income.”

Because digital veterinary technology draws from the same improvements in the computer and camera world, equipment becomes smaller, more efficient and more affordable every year. Here are four developments in digital diagnostic equipment:

Smaller Endoscopes

In 2005, BioVision Technologies developed for the human market a 1.2 mm endoscope the size of an 18-gauge needle. The scope allows doctors to view knees and shoulders in the office. At the request of veterinarians, BioVision created a similar scope for equine medicine and released it recently. 

“Practitioners can use the scope on a standing horse,” says John Small, vice president of BioVision, of Golden, Colo. “It can also be used on small animals, so it’s a benefit to mixed practices. The scope is complementary to imaging technology, but it’s 100 percent conclusive as a diagnostic.”

There are two versions: A 65mm working length, which can be used on smaller joints, and the 100mm working length on larger joints. 

Wes Williams, DVM, of Lone Star Park Equine Clinic in Dallas, was one of the first veterinarians to use the BioVision scope on equines. He says the scope’s compact portability will have applications for many mobile veterinarians, especially those with some surgical knowledge. 

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“The size of the canula and scope allows us access to the smaller joints and the navicular bursas,” he says. “In addition, the small diameter of the scope will allow us to utilize this on athletes with a lameness issue with normal radiographs as a diagnostic tool. We can pop the scope in, much like a needle for a joint injection, to help determine if it is safe to compete or if the horse needs rest before he can compete again.

“It’s also helpful in evaluating inflammation of the sinuses. A small 18-gauge hole will allow access to evaluate the sinus and response to treatment while minimizing trauma associated with the procedure.”

More Portable Today

In the past, veterinarians in the field have had challenges with ultrasound equipment. “[The equipment] was good quality but big, bulky and delicate to carry into the field. Or it was small and portable but the image quality lacked the detail of the bigger machines,” says Mia Varra of E.I. Medical Imaging of Loveland, Colo. 

“Now with our new Ibex ultrasound, you get a small, lightweight and durable field-tested machine that runs completely off a lithium rechargeable battery and has the image quality and software functions of the cart-based machines.”  

The user-friendly features include field of view, quick zoom, trackball navigation, cine loop (eight-second video playback), flash drive image storage (JPEG), USB link, wireless link, voice tag and an RFID reader for animal identification. It can be worn on the body, which prevents accidents like a foal running between the mare and the equipment and getting tangled in the wires.

Upgradeable, Durable

Investing in a delicate ultrasound unit that is expensive to upgrade is counterproductive. The SonoSite M-Turbo is an advanced ultrasound that is 100 percent software-based. A new software release has dramatically improved image quality.

“This ability to be upgraded on the fly allows the practitioner to maintain a current ultrasound platform as technology improves without having to reinvest in a new ultrasound,” says Guy Hammond, president of VetImaging of Irvine, Calif.

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VetImaging’s SonoSite M-Turbo and MicroMAXX weigh less than eight pounds and are slightly larger than a sheet of copy paper. They can handle extreme hot and cold, severe vibration, and being dropped from over three feet onto any surface.

Wireless DR

Some digital radiology systems for humans have been morphed into a vet product, says J.K. Waldsmith, DVM, president of Vetel Diagnostics of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“But it doesn’t translate if it applies the same software processing to the paw of a kitten and to the hoof of a horse,” he says. “The type of processing to separate [the layers of the hoof] and render a diagnostic image is different from a paw of a kitten.” 

Vetel offers units for companion and equine practices. 

Improvements have come to digital radiography by way of the new panels. There’s no longer a “one size fits all” approach. The cost has come down by 30 to 40 percent, depending on the manufacturer. Vetel is the only company offering a wireless DR, so there’s no cable to drag on the ground. 

 In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for a mobile vet to be fully functional, Dr. Waldsmith says, adding: “The only thing that’s scary is $250,000 of equipment sitting behind the seat.”

This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News

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