What Are the Most Common Problems with Veterinary Ultrasound and How to Solve Them?

By December 2, 2018January 3rd, 2019Ultrasound

If you’re in the market for a veterinary ultrasound machine, the last thing you want to do is buy a system that is prone to malfunctions or that offers low image quality. These are two of the most common problems associated with ultrasound systems, but they’re certainly not the only ones.

Some veterinarians do not appreciate the value of creating a plan to implement ultrasound in their practice before they make the purchase. This can greatly reduce the use of ultrasound in your clinic and cut into your return on investment. Other veterinarians overlook the importance of having a good service contract and making their ultrasound purchase from a reliable vendor.

In this article, we’ll explain how to avoid the following three common problems with ultrasound so you maximize the value of your new modality:

  1. Not having enough confidence in your abilities to recommend ultrasound to clients
  2. Purchasing a machine with low image quality
  3. Grappling with hardware and software issues

Click here to learn about instructor-guided ultrasound training courses.

  1. Not Having Enough Confidence to Recommend Ultrasound to Clients

The learning curve with ultrasound can be challenging because most veterinary schools don’t cover the modality in depth. You’ll have much more diagnostic confidence if you invest in a machine that offers good image quality and is easy to use.

Beyond the image quality, you can smooth out the learning curve by completing and implementing appropriate ultrasound training. Bear in mind that all training programs are not created equal. When comparing your options, find out how much time you will spend scanning a live animal in the lab with an instructor by your side—the more the better; this is the most important factor in a veterinary ultrasound training program. You should also consider the number of instructors and their credentials.

Most veterinarians can perform ultrasound-guided cystocentesis and Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST) scans with minimal training. Nearly 1 in 4 patients who need emergency treatment and about 75% of patients who are determined to be in shock will have a positive FAST scan.

When you’re comfortable with cystos and FAST scans, you can take an intermediate course to learn how to use ultrasound on the all major abdominal organs as well as more difficult structures such as the pancreas, lymph nodes, and GI tract. From there, you can take advanced courses and eventually offer full diagnostic scans, which typically bring in about $250 or more per scan depending on the location of your practice.

The Takeaway:
Build your confidence with ultrasound-guided cystocentesis and FAST scans. Most veterinarians can perform these procedures with minimal training. Although you might be comfortable performing blind cystos, the ultrasound will insure safe sampling and help you detect bladder calculi and masses that you would have otherwise missed.

  1. Low Image Quality

Virtually all ultrasound systems can capture good images in the hands of an expert, but no one is an expert when they’re just starting out. And getting high image quality is only half the battle; it is also important that good images are easy to obtain. Any system you invest in needs to have veterinary-specific presets and controls that make it straightforward to capture good images quickly. If the animal is not sedated, time is of the essence and if you’re fumbling with controls, you can expect the learning curve to be much steeper (and frustrating!).

The Takeaway:
Before purchasing an ultrasound system, make sure it comes with veterinary presets and functions like Auto-Optimize, which dramatically reduces the challenge of getting good images. This way, you can spend your time focusing on the patient assessment versus just getting an image. A feature that’s very helpful for those new to ultrasound is the Scan-Coach, found on the GE LOGIQ e from SOUND®.

Click here to see how Scan-Coach guides users through an abdominal exam.

  1. Hardware and Software Issues

Hardware and software issues rarely affect newer ultrasound systems that are developed by a reliable manufacturer like GE, but when they do happen, you’ll want to be confident that the problem will be resolved quickly. This is where your warranty and extended service contract come into play.

“Talk to your sales rep about what the warranty includes. The better ones include access to a loaner, which is imperative when you’ve fully incorporated ultrasound into your practice.”

— Dr. Marc Seitz, DVM, DABVP

The Takeaway:
Ultrasound dealers frequently change the manufacturers they represent. In times when a service issue arises and the dealer is no longer carrying the product, it can be difficult to obtain the service needed. Be sure to ask about the longevity of the dealer/manufacturer relationship.

If you invest in a reliable ultrasound system with exceptional image quality, the biggest challenge you are likely to face will be the learning curve. The easiest way to overcome this hurdle is to complete instructor-guided training courses and to build your confidence by practicing ultrasound-guided cystos and FAST scans. From there, you can take intermediate and advanced courses to develop your skills and expand the usage of ultrasound in your practice. Consider that when compared to other medical skills such as surgery, laparoscopy, or endoscopy, ultrasound is relatively easy to learn!