Ultrasound imaging is one of the world’s most common medical tests. It is non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, it doesn’t involve exposure to ionizing radiation, and is considered risk-free.
But an ultrasound scan is typically done at the doctor’s office. So, what about patients in rural areas or disaster zones who can’t get to a clinic?
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Israeli researchers are now developing a portable ultrasound system that transmits scans directly to physicians – immediately, from anywhere in the world. With such a system, ultrasound scans can be performed in developing countries with limited medical infrastructure, and the team at the site can be given medical instructions based on the findings.
This innovative ultrasound kit, which can also be used at the scenes of car accidents, was developed by Prof. Yonina Eldar’s lab at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The small, advanced probe eliminates the need for the large ultrasound devices that are used by clinics and hospitals.
Remote treatment for patients in developing countries
The probe acquires only the relevant data, which is then transmitted to a remote processing unit or cloud. The resulting image is then transferred to the treating physician’s smartphone or tablet.
Ultrasound is based on high-frequency sound waves that we cannot hear. During the examination, a probe that transmits sound waves is placed against the patient’s body, generating an image of the internal organs based on the pattern of the waves reflected back to the probe.
This technology is used in a wide variety of important medical tests: Assessing the condition of the fetus in utero, diagnosing conditions of internal organs, evaluating blood flow, diagnosing thyroid problems, cardiac examinations, detecting tumors and infections, and more.
At present, ultrasound examinations are performed at clinics and hospitals using a probe connected to a large, cumbersome and expensive ultrasound device. The results of the scan are collected by a computer and are interpreted by a radiologist, who sends the diagnosis to the patient’s doctor. This process might take several days, which could be critical in some cases.
Dramatically changing the nature of ultrasound
The Technion‘s new system dramatically changes the nature of ultrasound examinations. First, with the new algorithm developed at the lab, the data can be reduced at the initial scanning stage, so that it can be uploaded to a cloud without harming image quality and without loss of data on the way. Second, the smaller probe eliminates the need for the large ultrasound devices currently used at most clinics.
Dr. Shai Tejman-Yarden, a cardiologist at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, explains that in the case of injuries, for example, the system “will provide doctors who are not at the scene with information in real time, enabling them to instruct the paramedic at the scene,” he said in a statement. “This development will also enable remote treatment for patients in developing countries, under the guidance of Israeli doctors.”