Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month – by Warren Foster

Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month runs throughout October each year and is designed to raise public awareness and understanding of ultrasound and its many uses in healthcare.

As well as offering a range of medical ultrasound courses, AECC University College is proud to have an Ultrasound Clinic on-site. We offer a high-quality ultrasound service to healthcare professionals in a number of ultrasound applications.

Head of the School of Radiology at AECC University College and ultrasound specialist, Warren Foster, tells us more about ultrasound and its important role in healthcare.

Public Understanding of Ultrasound

“It’s true that ultrasound is a large field and public understanding of the wide range of care options that it offers is not as good as it could be. Ultrasound is actually the primary imaging choice for the majority of illnesses and yet there is a national shortage of specialist and skilled individuals that can carry out scanning. 

“For example, many people don’t realise the importance of the 20-week ultrasound scan for safeguarding your child and diagnosing potential problems early. This in turn helps with infant care. 

“Although most definitely its most widely known use, pregnancy scanning actually only represents approximately 20% of all ultrasound activity, with cancer care, sports injury, vascular disease and women’s health all taking large slices of the pie chart.”

Scans that save lives

“An ultrasound scan uses high-frequency sound waves that we cannot hear. These are in the same audible range as those used by bats to echolocate when flying. The ultrasound signals bounce off the structure of the body and, depending on the stiffness of the tissue and the time taken for the signal to return to the machine, allow us to build up a very detailed view of the inside.

“This appears as a grayscale image and a sonographer’s eyes adapt during training so they can appreciate these images much better than someone looking at scans for the first time. Sonographers scanning in Radiology departments have a minimum of six years’ University education and are trained to identify a wide range of illness and disease. 

“Sonographers use their extensive training to recognise pathologies in the body, or use their understanding of systems to figure out the diagnostic puzzle in front of them.

“Diagnostic sonographers often have to be detectives, looking at a number of small changes to internal structures and functions to identify the real problem. This is a little bit like finding the wind: we can’t see it, so by watching leaves blowing and feeling it on our faces, we can work out that it’s there and we can tell how strongly it is blowing. 

“Sonographers often have to balance up the signs in order to help spot illness. In this way, sonographers save lives every day of their career.”

Advantages of Ultrasound

“Ultrasound has many advantages. Firstly, it is a very cost-effective tool when compared to other types of imaging. An ultrasound may cost around £50 per scan, while a CT or MRI can cost £200 to £300 pounds.

“Many people also don’t realise that ultrasound has fantastic resolution and can often significantly out-class MRI and CT in this area.

“Ultrasound scanners are also extremely portable, allowing sonographers to use them all over the hospital and in the community.

“However, the little-known and real shining light of ultrasound is that it can examine patients and structure in real time and appreciate movement. This allows for dynamic evaluation and therefore adds significantly to diagnosis. 

“The final and probably best attribute is that ultrasound is completely safe in training hands and doesn’t have the side-effects or contact risks associated with the radiation of X-ray and CT, or the magnetic fields of MRI.”

Centre of Excellence at AECC University College  

“Here at AECC University College, we are the frontrunner in expanding the use of ultrasound into professions outside of Radiography. We have built a strong reputation as a specialist in the musculoskeletal world and have worked with the NHS Trust and in elite sport for over a decade.

“We champion pushing the boundaries of what can be evaluated with ultrasound. We have worked with Premiership and international rugby teams to provide training and support to medical doctors working with some of the world’s most expensive players.

“Furthermore, we are proud of our relationship with the Ministry of Defence, training medics, military doctors and physiotherapists in the use of ultrasound to diagnose, treat and manage our armed services personnel.

“We also have courses running in Norway, Sweden and in Ireland, teaching doctors to use ultrasound as a primary triage tool to help make critical decisions around patient management.”

What does training involve?

“Sonography training can be as extensive as the application for which you want to use it. We offer a wide variety of options: from 18-month courses in very specific areas, such as pregnancy assessment, to full three-year programmes looking at oncology and musculoskeletal skills.

“Access to ultrasound is currently a postgraduate route so new sonographers have already trained for three years in a health science like medicine, radiography, midwifery or physiotherapy.”

You can find out more about medical ultrasound training at AECC University College here.