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Ultrasound in the field

Portable ultrasound systems need high performance analogue components. By Graham Pitcher.

Ultrasound is a widely used technique in medicine, providing doctors and specialists with an effective means of inspecting soft tissue. Although the technique is more closely associated with prenatal scans, general purpose ultrasound devices, as the name suggests, can serve most imaging purposes. Where more specific information is required, specialised versions have been developed – echo cardiograms, for example.
But it’s a more accessible technology – certainly in the UK – than other imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed axial tomography (CAT). Resolutions are good enough for general diagnosis and the technology is portable – at least in hospitals, where ultrasound machines can be wheeled around on carts.
Now, doctors are looking to technology companies to increase the capability of ultrasound systems. In hospital based systems, there is a trend towards systems that can not only probe more deeply into a patient’s body, but also provide better resolution images. But medical technology companies are also looking to produce ultrasound equipment that can be used in the field – and particularly in developing countries.
Portable ultrasound isn’t just aimed at the third world, other applications include emergency medicine, pain management and cardiac assessments. However, the bottom line for portable ultrasound is the creation of technology which is smaller, consumes less power and costs less. In these respects, medical electronics is following the same trends as the consumer electronics market.

Graham Pitcher

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