What if physicians had immediate and direct bedside access to more precise visual information about their patient's illness?
With the advent of affordable, compact, battery-powered, hand-held ultrasound machines, medical students can now peer through the skin at internal organs to see abnormalities without ever having to expose patients to radiation.
These devices are truly revolutionary tools that are profoundly enhancing the doctor/patient relationship throughout diagnostic medicine.
Hand-held ultrasound units are easily carried about by the student and, unlike their cart-based older siblings, can be deployed in every clinical arena.
In any healthcare setting, portable ultrasound devices transform the typically passive role of the physician, family and patient into one that engages all in proactive, and at times, preventive healthcare. This is satisfying for both the practitioner and patient and can lead to effective and more cost-efficient health outcomes.
There are far-reaching implications not only in large urban medical communities but also in rural medicine and in telemedicine where ultrasound imaging may be the only definitive link to a patient’s illness or injury. Other ways to image our patients involve exposing them to radiation. A single CT of the abdomen and pelvis is roughly equivalent to receiving 500 chest X-rays worth of ionizing radiation.
Of course, one must always consider risk/benefit when evaluating the ill patient; however, if the answer can come via sound instead of beta rays then we should be ashamed NOT to reach for ultrasound. After all, it was Hippocrates who first told us to do no harm.
At UC Irvine School of Medicine
we are heeding the Liason Committee for Medical Education's (LCME) directive of active learning through integration of ultrasound into the four-year curriculum - starting at orientation week.
Sitting in a classroom is passive learning. Reading form a textbook is passive learning. Even listening to a podcast is passive learning. But picking up a transducer and generating the anatomical images of a live patient-- seeing the physiology come alive-- is actively learning the wonders of the human body.
This wave of innovation changes the way patients and physicians work together to address medical issues that may not be revealed by the manual physical examination. More specifically, handheld ultrasound devices can uncover many diseases and conditions earlier, before the patient is in crisis.