Sonography aspires to pushbutton simplicity, but the nature of the technology stands in the way.
Sonography aspires to pushbutton simplicity, but the nature of the technology stands in the way. The accuracy and reproducibility of diagnostic ultrasound rests in the hands of sonographers and depends on their individual skills. But Philips' new xMatrix, which is integrated with its PureWave technology, promises to improve productivity and accuracy. It began shipping weeks before this year's RSNA meeting and was displayed at the company's RSNA booth.
First built into the company's echocardiography systems some five years ago, a souped up version of this combination now brings 3D scanning to radiology. With the new X6-1 transducer operating on Philips' flagship iU22 system, sonographers can capture volumes, for example, surrounding the right and left kidneys, that can be acquired quickly and then interrogated in 2D planes any time after a patient has left the exam room. Images drawn from the volume can then be sent to any PACS.
“The combination of xMatrix and PureWave allows people of different technical levels to achieve the same quality imaging, even though ultrasound is a very user-dependent modality,” said Terry Correll, ultrasound account manager for global sales and service at Philips.
The key is the xMatrix transducer with elements arranged along the x and y planes. The 9000 electronically controlled elements replace the mechanical 3D arrays of the past. This technology appears today only in an abdominal probe, but it will likely migrate into solid-state transducers for endocavitary, vascular, and small parts applications, Correll said.
While there is no specific timeline for the migration of this technology, Damon Matlon, Philips' ultrasound marketing manager for North America, believes it is the future of ultrasound.
“It is certainly the direction in which we are headed,” he said.
But this kind of migration happens in baby steps, Matlon said.
“This is like any new kind of transducer that's come out in the past,” he said.
Controlling size, weight, and heat were the principal technical challenges that had to be overcome as the technology made the leap from echo to radiologic applications. The three challenges arose as the company built thousands more elements into its abdominal xMatrix transducer than the one needed for echo. Miniaturization and advanced application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips made the necessary room, while Philips engineers came up with a special heat sink that channels heat away from the transducer and along the cable that connects it to the iU22.
Their design efforts produced an added benefit for sonographers. Ergonomic tests indicate that users don't have to press as hard on the xMatrix transducer when scanning as they do with other such probes, Correll said. The xMatrix transducer also appears to be easier to manipulate.
“This is a big issue because it could reduce work-related musculoskeletal injuries,” he said. “Tenured sonographers are experiencing back, shoulder, and wrist pain, which is causing them to leave their careers. Younger sonographers do not have the experience [to replace them].”
Philips' new offering for radiology addresses both issues, promising to reduce strain on sonographers as its volumetric acquisition boosts the accuracy and reproducibility of scans.