How Augmented Reality Helps Train Ultrasound Technicians

Training ultrasound technicians to properly scan patients using traditional machines can be a slow process. The medical imaging modality produces low-quality images and requires users to be very knowledgeable of human anatomy as well as physics.  

Add to that the expense of owning and operating an ultrasound machine and ultrasound training can easily become difficult and inaccessible. First introduced in the 1950s, the ultrasound machine is an essential diagnostic tool for many clinicians. However, these machines don’t come cheap—an ultrasound machine costs several thousands to tens of thousands of dollars—and as a result, one scan can set you back around $250.

Ultrasound Training is Important

Training technicians to properly use an ultrasound machine is critical in properly diagnosing patients as inaccuracies and interpretation errors still happen. One study estimates that 3–5% of cognitive and perceptual errors occur daily across different modalities, including ultrasound. In a separate study published in SAGE Journals, researchers found that “the most common sources of [ultrasound] inaccuracy [in estimating fetal weight] identified were operator dependent, highlighting the importance of regular training and audit, fundamental to professional development and maintaining competency.” 

While it might be impossible to completely resolve these operator-dependent interpretation errors and inaccuracies, there is a way to reduce their occurrences. Enter augmented reality (AR).

Augmented reality allows us to see the world, i.e., the real-life environment, overlaid or superimposed with digital information, including sounds, images and text. From games to navigation systems to military use, AR has proven useful in everyday life. AR has also been beneficial in medicine and healthcare, such as providing assistance during surgeries, aiding people with disabilities, helping people finding veins for IV’s and more.

Using Augmented Reality in Training Ultrasound Technicians

In the field of ultrasound imaging, augmented reality will revolutionize ultrasound technology by providing medical professionals with in-depth visualization during physical exams, assessments and other procedures. 

But even while still learning and training, up-and-coming medical professionals, especially ultrasound technicians, will be able to improve their skills. AR will allow them to examine 3D anatomy, which will make the learning process easier. And by practicing scanning holographic organs, they will be able to observe in real-time and understand how ultrasound beams work to generate an ultrasound image. 

In a study published in the 2015 IEEE International Ultrasonics Symposium (IUS), Cameron Palmer et al. provided students with a tablet-based AR system for visualizing a patient’s heart. They found that the system “gives the student quick insight into which anatomical structures they are viewing even if their ability to interpret diagnostic images is not yet fully formed. … [and] can help the student more quickly acquire the correct transducer position.”

AR Advances Ultrasound Training

Ultrasound imaging continues to be a valuable diagnostic tool. But as it is a highly operator-dependent modality, ultrasound technicians need to be able to acquire the knowledge necessary to operate the device and learn how to use it effectively during their training period, which can easily take up to 12 months. The use of augmented reality can help ultrasound technicians significantly improve their skills at a lower cost.