While quality ultrasound equipment is less expensive than ever today, access to good educational opportunities is the major force propelling this imaging technology’s popularity, believes Charles Maloy, president of E.I. Medical Imaging in Loveland, Colo.
“A number of groups out there are doing training. That is what I think is the big facilitator to getting this equipment into people’s hands,” Maloy said. His company engineers, designs, manufactures, services and sells veterinary ultrasound machines. E.I. Medical also provides training and consulting for its equipment.
“It’s a proud thing for me when people ask what we do, and then they say, ‘It’s good to hear there are companies in the United States still making things,’” he said.
“There are two basic types of training: one is the technical side, and then there’s the business side—how is adding this service to my practice going to make money?” Maloy said. “They need to learn how the equipment can pay for itself and add to the bottom line. We coach a lot on that with prospective clients. We’re trying to expand a veterinarian’s horizon on what these tools can do for them. There’s a broader array of services than they even realize.”
Small-animal veterinary practice is probably the largest growth area, said J.K. Waldsmith, DVM, president of Vetel Diagnostics in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“The new ultrasound systems, with their superior imaging and software utilities, make it possible for the general practitioner to perform procedures that were previously referred out,” he said. “There are even systems that allow for an Internet connection, which provides real-time telemedicine consultation in which the specialist can monitor the entire study as it is being performed.”
The image quality and feature sets are better and the sizing requirements for the technology are getting smaller, Maloy said.
That’s because in recent years, ultrasound technology has received more attention from electronic component manufacturers, said Pete Temple, E.I. Medical’s technical support manager.
“This means that ultrasound designers are able to make smaller, lower power and more feature-rich systems than ever before,” Temple said.
Ultrasound machines now offer touch-screen interfaces (think iPhone) and wireless network connections.
“The major breakthrough in the last few years has taken place in parallel channel processing, also known as zone technology,” Dr. Waldsmith said. “The probes are divided into 10 sections, each run by its own processor. It increases processing speed by a factor of 10X, and also allows for automatic correction of the speed of sound as it is reflected back from the tissues.”
All of which makes for superior imaging of deep and very shallow structures, Waldsmith said.
“Like any technology, there is quite a wide range in the price and features of ultrasounds available to the veterinarian today,” said Erika Wierman, DVM, sales manager for E.I. Medical Imaging. “However, most progressive practices will find a moderate system to fit into their budget relatively easily. Perhaps more importantly, ultrasound provides a very good return on investment.”
Dr. Wierman noted that most veterinary colleges and larger conferences offer practical, hands-on continuing education in ultrasonography. Re-emphasizing a common mantra, she added that “Practice is key to becoming proficient. It is imperative to become comfortable with the normal appearance of tissues in order to identify pathology.”