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New Handheld Ultrasound Devices Impact Ultrasound Tech Careers

By Aimee Hosler,

When General Electric debuted LOGIQ e, its laptop-sized portable ultrasound machine, at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the response was overwhelming. The new device would allow medical teams to scan athletes' injuries on the scene and immediately send digital copies of the images to radiologists waiting in a pavilion. Athletes could be diagnosed and treated faster than ever before.

According to a November 2010, report by iData Research, the adoption of these handheld ultrasound devices in emergency settings is booming despite the recession. The leading manufacturers--GE, SonoSite, and Siemens--are expected to push the handheld ultrasound imaging market to more than $1.2 billion. You would think that a thriving ultrasound technology market would spell good news for ultrasound technicians, but there's more to the story than meets the eye.

New Handheld Ultrasounds: Pros and Cons for Ultrasound Techs

Handheld ultrasound technology allows practitioners to treat patients in virtually any setting, expanding the use of sonography dramatically. The problem? Those most often using this type of technology are emergency care practitioners and nurses rather than tried-and-true ultrasound technicians, which means there's rarely need for subsequent scans by ultrasound techs in clinical setting. But while the expansion of handheld ultrasound reduces an ultrasound tech's workload (and payout) to some degree, it also opens new doors for those in need of a change.

Ultrasound Techs Break Out of Clinical Settings

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that ultrasound technicians are trending away from hospital settings and into private care facilities elsewhere. With new handheld ultrasound technology, they may literally work almost anywhere and in virtually any conditions. Following the devastating Haitian earthquake in January, 2010, for instance, emergency relief workers, including ultrasound technicians, rushed to provide those affected with much-needed medical care. Siemens Healthcare donated 20 of their ACUSON P10 handheld systems to Project HOPE to help health care workers identify organ ruptures and foreign objects lodged inside patients quickly--a task once unthinkable given the location and circumstances. Several months later, more devices and volunteer ultrasound technicians made their way to Pakistan to provide care for expecting mothers living in high risk conditions. In both circumstances, ultrasound technicians were able to donate their time and skills to those in desperate need like never before.

Ultrasound Technician Certification and Training Help Techs Keep Up with New Technology

Most states don't require ultrasound technicians to be licensed, but according to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), that may be changing. Mexico and Oregon now require ultrasound tech licensure, and more states are expected to follow suit. One of the primary reasons for state-mandated licensure of ultrasound technicians is to ensure that their skills remain sharp despite rapid technological advances in sonography.

While national ultrasound technician requirements have not yet been established, ultrasound techs may expect a push for more training. All of this means ultrasound technician schools and certification programs must meet increased demand for continuing education. If you're a working ultrasound technician and would like to stay ahead of the curve, continuing education units (CEUs) through ultrasound technicans schools may help. Ultrasound tech certification is another great way to stay on top of your field.

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