Just How Good Are Portable Veterinary Ultrasound Systems?

Ultrasound applications in veterinary medicine are increasing as units become more accessible to veterinary practitioners, and many veterinary practices are finding portable imaging equipment a great option because the machines are convenient, accurate, cost-effective, and easy to use.

However, choosing the right system for your practice can be daunting. Considerations include the animals you service, image quality, software capability, DICOM functionality, and imaging partner.

Whether you are currently using a portable ultrasound machine and looking to upgrade your system, or you are thinking about adding portable equipment to expand your practice and increase your flexibility, you want to select the best portable veterinary ultrasound machine for your practice to elevate your level of care and further build your business.

Portable Veterinary Ultrasound Machine Performance

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In contrast to console ultrasound units, this article will focus on portable veterinary ultrasound systems – laptops, tablets, and hand-held devices – but that essentially work the same way as their larger console ultrasound cousins.

The ultrasound probe produces sound waves that enter the body, and when these waves hit boundaries between fluid and soft tissue, or tissue and bone, echoes reflect back to the probe.

This generates electrical signals that are sent to the ultrasound scanner, which calculates the distance from the probe to the tissue boundary and generates a two-dimensional image of tissues and organs.

Advanced technology means that portable veterinary ultrasound equipment can now meet most imaging needs. A recent literature review revealed that portable ultrasound devices were typically comparable with console systems across several medical specialties.

Portable Veterinary Ultrasound Machine Advantages

The right portable veterinary ultrasound equipment can be a valuable practice asset by providing several advantages over console units, including:

  • Improved patient care — If you determine that a patient’s situation requires an ultrasound, having the right equipment on-hand will accelerate the diagnostic process and eliminate the need to make arrangements at another facility. In some cases, that additional step may be too problematic for the owner, resulting in an animal not receiving the timely care it needs.
  • Added convenience — Portable ultrasound units allow veterinarians to provide an accurate, timely diagnosis wherever the patient is located…in your clinic, at the barn, or at the client’s home. 
  • Requiring less space Console ultrasounds are large, typically with about a 2-feet by 2-feet footprint that requires a lot of space. Portable veterinary ultrasounds are much smaller and easier to store and maneuver. 
  • New revenue streams — Portable veterinary ultrasound equipment enables you to expand your services or provide services to other practices and specialty niches, such as cardiology, ophthalmology, large animal medicine, and exotic pets.
  • Affordability — Portable veterinary ultrasound machines are significantly less expensive than console units, which allows practices to offer ultrasound services to their patients without assuming a large debt. Console units can be $200,000 or higher, whereas portable ultrasound units can be 25% of that, depending on functionality.
  • Eliminating the need to transport vulnerable patients — Health issues or serious injuries can make transporting certain patients inadvisable. A portable veterinary ultrasound allows veterinarians to use this technology in the field to help make the correct diagnosis without delay.
  • Better client communication — The real-time ultrasound images allow veterinarians to explain the pet’s condition and clients to better understand the diagnosis.
  • The ability to run on battery power — Portable veterinary ultrasound machines can run on battery power, which further increases your ability to provide services outside the office.

Top Portable Veterinary Ultrasound Machine Features

When shopping for the best portable veterinary ultrasound machine for your practice, look for the following features:

  • Veterinary presets — Preloaded veterinary-specific presets streamline your workflow, ensuring you have the correct contrast, frequency, depth, and focus to optimize your ultrasound technique and make your exams more efficient.
  • High-resolution imaging — Spatial resolution is the ability to differentiate two closely spaced objects, and contrast resolution involves discerning density based on subtle differences in brightness. You want a portable ultrasound system that can image superficial and deep anatomy with excellent spatial and contrast resolution.
  • User-friendly design — Ensure the portable veterinary ultrasound equipment you choose is easy to start up and simple to navigate through interfaces. This will help expedite the examination and is especially helpful when trying to keep an animal still.
  • DICOM connectivity — Being able to send images or transfer them to another device is important, especially if you want advice on a difficult case.
  • Reliable supplier — Choose a supplier or manufacturer that offers a range of portable veterinary ultrasound equipment and purchasing options to ensure you can meet your practice and budgetary needs. In addition, a reliable supplier should provide customer support, maintenance, and repair services to ensure your machine lasts as long as possible.

Portable Veterinary Ultrasound Machine Accessories

Deciding what probe or probes you need, and whether you need advanced functionality, is important when purchasing a portable veterinary ultrasound machine. The following is a general description of the most-often used probes:

  • Micro-convex probe — A micro-convex probe with a frequency between 3 MHz and 9 MHz is a minimum requirement for any small animal veterinary practice. This is the main probe you will use for small animal abdominal scanning. You can also use this probe to assess the heart.
  • Convex probe — Convex probes have a wider field of view at a lower frequency and are primarily used for scanning the liver in large dogs and large animals.
  • Linear probe — Linear probes are good for superficial abdominal structures and for eye examinations.
  • Linear T probe — Linear T probes have an extremely small footprint and are used to scan exotic species and musculoskeletal structures in small animals, and for ophthalmology exams.
  • Phased array probe — Phased array probes are the gold standard choice for

Other Accessories and Capabilities to Consider:

  • Stand off pads — A stand off pad increases the distance between the ultrasound probe and a superficial lesion to bring the area within the probe’s focal zone.
  • Tissue elastography technology — Elastography evaluates tissue and organ stiffness and is commonly used to assess the liver.
  • Color Doppler — Color Doppler changes sound waves into different colors to show blood flow speed and direction in real time. 
  • Tissue Doppler — Tissue Doppler imaging is an echocardiographic technique that uses Doppler principles to measure myocardial motion velocity.
  • Spectral Doppler — Spectral Doppler can be pulsed wave (PW) Doppler or continuous wave (CW) Doppler. PW Doppler measures blood flow velocities at a specific location or in a particular sample, whereas CW Doppler measures velocities along the ultrasound beam’s entire path.
  • Single crystal transducer technology — A single crystal transducer has a higher energy conversion efficiency and higher sensitivity than conventional piezo-ceramic materials, which produces a greater uniformity, and results in deeper tissue penetration.
  • Needle enhancement technology — The needle’s visibility in an ultrasound-guided procedure is often limited because the needle’s reflections are dispersed away from the probe. Needle enhancement maximizes the received reflections by steering the ultrasound beam exactly perpendicular to the needle.

Portable veterinary ultrasound equipment most often offers images of comparable quality to those of larger console units and given the nature of your practice, the convenience, portability, and affordability may more than compensate for slight performance differences in certain applications.

Contact a product specialist at Universal Imaging Inc. to discuss portable veterinary imaging equipment that may be right for your practice.

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