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Real-Time Cardiac Ultrasound Training Provides Real-Life Benefits

Researchers develop a simulator that can give immediate feedback to students practicing cardiac and vascular sonography.

Valerie Brown, Contributor
Wednesday, February 21, 2018


To acquire a useful ultrasound image, a sonographer must have both medical knowledge and motor coordination. An experienced sonographer can capture such pictures, but since ultrasound machines have become less expensive and more portable, many physicians do their own sonography. This has raised concerns about potential diagnostic errors, which studies have shown can be especially high when the diagnosis relies on sonography by less experienced practitioners. Medical schools are now adding ultrasound training to their curricula to address this problem.

University of Washington researchers Florence H. Sheehan and R. Eugene Zierler have now developed a new tool to give students in cardiac and vascular sonography real-time feedback. The method uses a mannequin and a mock transducer equipped with a tracker whose movements are fed to a personal computer. Based on the student’s movement of the transducer and using images taken from a normal volunteer or from a patient with a known vascular condition, the software displays waveforms representing vascular blood flow in real time. The data is also reconstructed into a 3-D image. This system allows the student to get immediate feedback on the accuracy of her or his transducer skill and allows an examiner to acquire quantitative data about the trainee’s technical competence.

While other cardiac simulators similarly provide quantitative and objective assessment of skill and allow training without using live patients, the authors note that their simulator also gives immediate feedback to both trainee and instructor, which enables the student to refine skills rapidly. They describe the new simulator in a paper published in February in Vascular Medicine. A short video demonstration is also available.