Whether you’re in the market because you’re looking for a replacement for your outdated ultrasound equipment or are buying an ultrasound machine for your budget, choosing the right machine is crucial.
The decision is not an easy one because there are so many different ultrasound machines to choose from, and numerous factors to take into consideration. Buying an ultrasound machine is a significant investment and ideally, you want it to pay back more than it cost. While cost is important, there are numerous other key considerations to take into account. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.
What are the Most Important Factors to Consider when Choosing an Ultrasound Machine?
The imaging mode is how ultrasound information is presented to the person using the machine. The mode defines how the image is shown on the screen. Some of the most common types of ultrasound machines use the following:
This is by far the simplest type of ultrasound mode. There is no image. Instead, there is a one-dimensional representation of the reflected sound waves. This imaging mode is generally used if you need to measure distances.
Also known as 2B mode, the image displayed on the screen is a 2D representation of a section of the body being scanned. This type of imaging machine is common across a variety of disciplines.
This type of imaging produces a sequence of successive images that allow the user to view and measure movement and its amplitude.
Real-Time Spatial Compound Imaging
This type of ultrasound equipment uses electronic beam steering of a transducer array to rapidly acquire sonographic information from several different angles. It is commonly used for musculoskeletal examination and breast ultrasound.
Color Doppler Imaging
With this imaging mode, users can visualize and analyze the flow of blood, its direction, and vascularization. It is a model that’s commonly used in cardiology because it allows the user to analyze a person’s heart, the condition of its valves, or the vascularization of a specific tissue.
Ultrasound equipment that has this mode can measure tissue hardness and diagnose various diseases such as hepatic fibrosis.
3D / 4D (Real-Time 3D)
This type of ultrasound machine is typically used to examine pregnant women. It provides a three-dimensional image of the woman’s fetus and allows the examiner to check its movements in utero.
As you might expect, ultrasound scanners can be found in a range of different sizes. Thanks to technology, the best ultrasound machine can now be portable if you need such a device.
Some hand-held models weigh little more than 500 grams. It would be very easy to store such an ultrasound device in your pocket or a bag. Some are wireless or you can connect them to your smartphone. Such small and portable ultrasound equipment is very useful in emergency situations and point of care medicine.
Size of the screen
The size of the screen is equally important as the size of the best ultrasound machine. If you’re considering a portable ultrasound device you have to weigh up whether the size of the screen is sufficient for your needs as the screen on a portable ultrasound machine tends to be much smaller.
As we’ve already mentioned, there are portable ultrasound systems that weigh less than a bag of sugar and new ultrasound machines that can easily be slipped into a pocket.
The larger the ultrasound machine, the heavier and more cumbersome it will be. This isn’t an issue if you don’t need to move it around and you have the space for it to be located in one space.
However, if you want an ultrasound machine you can easily move around and take with you wherever it’s needed, the lighter and smaller the better.
Quality of the image
More and more practitioners are looking for the best portable ultrasound systems. But while the imaging capabilities of the portable ultrasound machine are undergoing major improvements, a console-based ultrasound machine is likely to offer images with better resolution, advanced functionality, and capabilities.
Ultrasound technology allows some portable ultrasound machines to display as many as 250 shades of gray. In addition, some have color screens and improved image quality. However, it’s important to note that these advanced capabilities do not come as standard across all models of portable ultrasound machines.
As well as color and number of shades of gray, brightness is another factor that relates to the quality of the image. Veterinarians, for example, may need to use their ultrasound machines outdoors. Ideally, you want the brightness to be adjustrable without experiencing any compromise in the quality of the image and your ability to read the results.
Types and number of transducers
A transducer or probe is an essential part of the ultrasound imaging process. You can purchase transducers in a range of sizes, shapes, and with a diverse array of features, depending on the body parts you want to examine.
Ultrasound probes can be inserted into the body or passed over the skin’s surface. Probes and transducers differ in terms of design and there are four basic types more commonly used:
- Linear probes: Also known as vascular probes, linear transducers are for imaging superficial structures, vascular examinations, thyroid, breast, orthopedics, other small parts and for measuring body fat.
- Curvilinear or convex probes: These have a wider footprint and lower frequency and are commonly used for transabdominal imaging and when the field of view needs to be widened. This type of transducer is commonly used for the diagnosis of organs, and the type of abdominal examinations undertaken in obstetrics, gynecology, and urology. Micro convex probes are another option. Their smaller footprint makes them ideal for pediatrics and neonatal applications.
- Phase array probes: This type of transducer is low frequency and has a small footprint. You would use a phased array transducer for getting images between ribs such as brain, abdominal, and transesophageal examinations as well as cardiac ultrasound.
- Endocavitary probes: This type of probe includes transrectal, transvaginal, and transesophageal transducers. Their footprint is very small because they have to be interested via various cavities so that organs can be examined more closely.
In addition, there are also 3D and 4D ultrasound probes that allow the user to analyze more detailed imaging. 3D probes allow users to view static 3D images, while 4D ultrasound allows for live streaming videos of images.
The software installed can enhance the diagnostic capabilities of ultrasound machines. Enhancements include Doppler studies, 3D/4D, Speckle reduction imaging, Auto IMT for vascular, elastography, spatial compound imaging and many more.
The software can also improve the quality of the image significantly and might also include analytical tools to help the user identify patterns within the image or improve the accuracy of the diagnosis.
In addition, you also need to make sure that the ultrasound machine’s software is compatible with the software and hardware you currently use. Software support is another essential element you should consider.
Another parameter to consider is the life of the battery. This is especially important if you’re looking to purchase a hand-held or portable ultrasound machine. For such devices, you want a battery that’s going to last several hours.
If you think you may have issues with interruptions to the power supply, battery duration and backup are important parameters to check out before you purchase an ultrasound machine. You should also look into the options of having a second battery if you’re going to be purchasing a portable ultrasound system rather than a static one.
How you plan to use your ultrasound system is a significant factor to bear in mind. Factoring in the intended usage of your ultrasound system will also help narrow down your options, in addition, it will ensure you’re not overspending or wasting resources on an new or refurbished medical equipment that is too advanced for your practice.
Ultrasound systems can be used for a variety of imaging applications, from obstetrics and gynecology to abdominal studies and imaging of other small parts. Here are some other diagnostic or screening uses you might have to consider:
- Obstetrics: Ultrasound systems are used during pregnancy. The progress of a fetus can be monitored, how many fetuses there are in the womb, the fetus age, the placenta’s location, fetal position, movement, heart, and breathing. A Doppler ultrasound can also measure blood flow and can be used if there are concerns about how the fetus is growing.
- Gynecology: A range of other women’s health related issues can be detected using an ultrasound system. Examples include ovarian growths or tumors, ovarian cysts, uterine growths, abdominal pain, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and much more.
- Cardiology: Ultrasound is commonly used in echocardiography to evaluate the overall functioning of the heart. Ultrasound machines can indicate the volume and flow of blood through the chambers. Doppler ultrasound echocardiography is commonly performed to detect problems with heart valves.
- Blood vessels: Ultrasound machines can be very effective at detecting problems in the larger blood vessels of your body. Blood flow can be observed and measured. Narrowing or widening of vessels can be detected. Other ultrasound applications include detecting abdominal aortic aneurysms and blood clots in the veins, both superficial and deep vein thrombosis.
- Abdominal structures: Various organs within the abdominal cavity can be inspected using ultrasound machines.
- Testicular issues: Ultrasound systems can diagnose testicular torsion, testicular masses, growths, tumors, imaging of the breasts, and to help find foreign bodies that may be lodged in the skin.
- Anesthesiology: Ultrasound machines are used around the world in anesthesiology both for diagnostic purposes and for carrying out various procedures.
When you’re looking to purchase an ultrasound machine, you have to know how you intend to use it. Usage will depend on the type of patients you treat and the cases you might refer away to others because you don’t have the right ultrasound equipment.
It would be great if there was an ultrasound machine that did it all, but unfortunately, such a machine doesn’t exist. Even if they did, it would likely be far too expensive. Ultrasound machines are built with a specific use in mind and each different one has its own strengths and weaknesses.
The cost of an ultrasound machine can vary considerably. However, for anyone in the market for this type of system, there is usually one that will suit your budget or speciality.
There’s also the option of buying a refurbished ultrasound machine rather than a new one. Several factors can impact the cost of a new or refurbished ultrasound machine. They include:
- Brand and model: You have the choice of low or high-tier ultrasound systems. High-tier and more well-known brands tend to be more expensive.
- Functionality: Compared with a static unit, portable ultrasound machines tend to be less expensive.
- Age: As you might expect, a new machine is going to cost more than a refurbished model. Older refurbished systems are also going to lower in price.
- Applications: The more applications the ultrasound system can perform, the higher the price.
Low-tier ultrasound systems tend to start at around $5,000 and go up to $10,000. For a mid- to high-range model, you could pay upward of $200,000. A refurbished ultrasound machine, on the other hand, ranges from $5,000 to $40,000 for an average model.
Power output is an important consideration. In general, look for a machine with lower power settings as it will be less likely to burn the epidermis or tissues.
An ultrasound machine’s frequency relates to how deep the ultrasound waves will penetrate. In general, the higher the frequency, for example 10-16 MHz, the more superficial image it will produce. High frequency sound waves are better for superficial musculoskeletal examinations such as the hand or foot.
With a lower frequency, for example 1 or 2 MHz, the penetration will be much deeper. Low frequencies are better suited for abdominal scans.
You have to decide whether a portable ultrasound machine will be the right choice, compared with a stationary console.
To help you decide, think about whether you’ll need to move the ultrasound machine around. If you’re going to be moving it from one location to another, a portable machine is going to be better. Static machines are cumbersome to move around and could get damaged.
A portable ultrasound does have its limitations in terms of image quality, probe options, limited software features, small keyboard and monitor.
Hand-held ultrasound machines are ultra-portable, but have been developed for the diagnosis of cardiology emergencies or other types of emergency and use in emergency departments. They are not really intended for musculoskeletal use as this aspect of their performance is quite poor.
It is often best to buy ultrasound machines with a reputable brand name such as Sinosite, Philips, Edan, Toshiba, GE, Mindray Ultrasound, or Sonoscape. These companies have been in business for several years and offer excellent customer service as well as a range of advanced models.
Level of training required to use the machine
Before you make your purchase, consider the skill levels of the technicians who will be using the new ultrasound machine. Additional training may be required in order for the equipment to be used properly.
It might be worth asking whether the ultrasound machine provider provides offline or online training. On-site training might also be an option, but there will be an added cost.
Warranty duration, service contracts and technical support
When you’re buying your next ultrasound scanner, check the duration of the manufacturer’s warranty. It tends to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Once the warranty has expired, there is also the issue of service conditions and contract terms to consider. Things to check include:
- Service contract duration
- Auto renewal clauses
- Cancellation fees
- Guaranteed response times
Technical support is another aspect of your purchase that you shouldn’t forget. While making your purchase, take the time to negotiate alternatives to system updates and technical support. These are often bundled into the terms and conditions so you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Availability of spare parts and accessories
There may come a time when you need to purchase parts or consumables for your new ultrasound machine. Are they difficult to get or too expensive?
Ideally, you want an ultrasound machine with basic parts such as monitors, power suppliers, keyboards, upper control panels, panels, buttons, and keys that are readily available.
One final thing to decide is whether you should opt for a refurbished or new ultrasound system.
A new ultrasound machine will come with a warranty, so you’ve got to weigh up the trade-off between reliability and price.
If you want a top of the range model with all the bells and whistles but don’t want to invest a massive amount of resources, a refurbished ultrasound machine is a smart choice. A refurbished system is a used machine that has been restored or upgraded. Generally, they are at massively discounted prices compared to new machines.
It is recommended that you approach a reputable supplier of refurbished ultrasound machines, such as Ultrasound Solutions Corp. This ISO 13485:2016 certified, FDA registered company has more than 20 years experience in the diagnostic ultrasound equipment industry. It has many happy customers ranging from hospitals and private practices to imaging centers and educational institutions.
Other features & parameters
There are several other features you should consider including:
- Image storage capacity
- Ease of image transfer
- Integrated gel warmer
- Connectivity with other peripheral devices
- Printer capabilities
Now you know a little bit more about how to choose ultrasound machine and what to look for, you’re better prepared to find the right machine for your needs and make a wise investment.
The amount of time and effort you put into buying your ultrasound equipment will help reduce the cost and ensure you find the best portable ultrasound machines or stationary machines on the market.