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The Grand Convergence...what's new in ultrasound.

Ultrasound isn't isolated from the rest of the world when we talk about convergence of technologies. In recent years, we've seen the ultrasound, the personal computer and Patient Archiving systems that were once diverse and incompatible, become Supercharged Windows and Linux/Unix computers with vast Archiving systems that can push large patient files across the globe in milliseconds.

This demand comes from demand for efficient, cutting-edge technology with instant results. In response, the major manufacturers have worked tirelessly with Windows or Unix/Linux-based systems that are designed to digitally store images then pass them to a network for patient archiving. These can be reviewed on a remote workstation, another ultrasound, or on the same ultrasound the next time the patient returns for a visit. The machines are typically faster, more versatile, more upgradeable, more compact, and contain more state-of-the art customization and storage options. They're truly amazing machines that bring a whole new set of exciting technologies the world of ultrasound. In addition, the replacement of complex circuit boards with more software has made room for very small machines that provide solid image quality.

The powerful processors driving these machines can quickly evaluate ultrasound signals and determine what is tissue and what is artifact better and more efficiently than ever before.

This sounds great. But remember that these are now becoming PCs on steroids. This means that you can see more crashes, freezes, and a whole new slew of mystery problems as a hard drive begins to fail. Just like your home computer or work computer. And the kicker: homebrew service is getting harder as manufacturers will lock you out of the system so you cannot perform your own diagnostics and repairs on the systems.

But don't fret, this won't make any current machine obsolete... they're still making very large machines that require complex circuitry to perform high-level calculations. Let's not forget the basis of what we're working with hereŠ ultrasonic waves. This technology has not changed. The machines still send high-frequency sound into tissue, and report an echo back to the machine, which displays a representation of that signal back to you on the screen. It's how the machine can interpret these signals is all that's changing. We're sending out more signals, in more directions, and using the return frequencies in new ways that were never previously imagined. The images that are being displayed are more impressive than ever and provide for easier and more definitive diagnosis.

But do you need these high-end systems today? Sure, if you're a large hospital, have a lot of high-risk patients, and in a competitive market. Today's ultrasound buyer needs to decide if going digital is necessary for the price, what kind of image quality they want, and what kind of budget is in mind. $20,000 can buy a great OB/GYN ultrasound machine, and $35,000 can buy a great Cardiac machine. But not if you want 4D or if you ever plan to go digital. Those prices are still high, but are definitely more reasonable than before.

Small practices need to decide on what they want for price/performance. If you need black and white, you can get a great system at $10,000 that probably has digital storage capabilities! Color isn't much more expensive. It's the new stuff that's outrageous. Heck, we still sell machines that were manufactured in the 1980s!!

So while the new convergent technologies are hitting us quickly, don't forget that these don't affect most practices for MANY years down the road. Think about your budget and what you REALLY need. If you plans include networking in 3-5 years at the earliest, go with the system that's going to give you the best image quality in the short-term.

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