Evaluation Background: Wireless Ultrasound Probes for Point-of-Care Applications
June 2, 2023 | Evaluations & Guidance
Here's background for our Evaluations of wireless ultrasound probes for point-of-care ultrasound applications, outlining the key considerations for making wise purchasing decisions. Learn how the technology is used, which specs are important, and what factors we test for. Also review our latest product ratings and ECRI's data describing hospitals' interest in each vendor.
The primary purpose of wireless probes and other diagnostic ultrasound scanners is to obtain images and other data that is used for diagnosis. These devices are also used to provide ultrasound image guidance for interventional procedures such as biopsies or surgery.
A wireless probe transmits data via Wi-Fi to a personal electronic device (PED), such as a smartphone or tablet, for image display. Proprietary software on the PED allows users to enter patient data, optimize imaging parameters, perform measurements, store images, or export them to a remote location for sharing and archiving.
The ultrasound transducer transmits ultrasound signals into the patient and receives echoes that are used to create a display of the anatomy or to provide other data such as the direction of blood flow. Wireless probes are available in a variety of frequencies and configurations, including convex linear-array (CLA) transducers for assessing deep structures such as the kidneys or a fetus and flat linear-array (FLA) transducers for scanning superficial structures such as the breast or thyroid gland. Sector probes, sometimes referred to as phased-array probes, are commonly used for cardiac applications, while endocavity probes are used for gynecologic, obstetric, and urologic exams. There are also "dual probes" that typically combine a CLA and FLA transducer in a single device to expand their clinical utility, as well as multitransducer designs, which allow users to attach one of several transducer heads to a handpiece for even greater versatility. To learn more, see our article Types of Ultrasound Transducers.
Diagnostic ultrasound is a mature technology that has been commercially available since the 1950s. It continues to experience gradual technological evolutions, such as improvements in image quality, as well as revolutionary advances, such as pulsed-wave Doppler and 4D imaging, that have extended the diagnostic potential of the modality.
Wireless probes are used primarily for point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) applications, which we have divided into four clinical categories for the purposes of our Evaluations; see the list below. (Prior to 2022, we categorized these devices simply as POCUS scanners.) A probe's suitability for one or more clinical categories depends on its FDA 510(k)-cleared indications, display format, and available exam presets. We rate each probe for use in its applicable category or categories, assigning separate ratings for each. For users who perform a wide range of exam types, wireless probes that are indicated for two or more clinical categories provide workflow advantages over those that are applicable only for a single category.
Our POCUS clinical categories are:
- General applications, which are typically performed using sector or CLA...