Portable Ultrasound Scanners

August 1, 2008 | Evaluations & Guidance


Ultrasound scanners are imaging devices that use high-frequency sound waves to provide information about patients’ anatomy and physiology. Two broad categories of scanners are available: (1) conventional full-sized, full-featured models and (2) portable models, which are smaller and usually less expensive. Portable models can be readily moved from one location to another, and many can also operate on internal battery power and do not need to be plugged into a wall outlet.

In the past, portable models lacked many of the advanced features of full-sized models; however, recent years have witnessed the introduction of high-end portables, which allow many complete ultrasound studies to be performed at the patient’s bedside. And in some cases, these scanners can be used in place of a conventional (full-sized) scanner in certain hospital departments.

When deciding which portable ultrasound scanner to purchase, buyers should consider which applications the department is responsible for, what features are needed for each of those applications, and which models offer those features. In some cases, making the right portable ultrasound purchase can save money if you can use the scanner for most or all of the scans in the department. In the discussions that follow, we’ll provide the information you’ll need to make the best choice possible.

This Evaluation covers more than 50 products from 20 suppliers. Because of the number of units, it was not feasible for us to test them all. Instead, we reviewed each product’s features and, based on these, provide judgments about which products are likely to be most suitable for different hospital departments. Included are general-purpose portables capable of both limited and comprehensive examinations and special-purpose portables, which are marketed for specific applications (e.g., musculoskeletal, vascular access). Excluded were ophthalmic ultrasound scanners and transcranial Doppler scanners, as well as nonimaging ultrasound diagnostic devices, such as blood flow meters and fetal heart detectors.

Our ratings are provided in the Product Ratings section below. They are organized by department. For each department, we list the applications that are typically provided and rate the suitability of the evaluated products for each application.

For reference, in the Ultrasound Applications Performed by Hospital Departments section, we list the departments covered in this Evaluation and the relevant applications for each. And in the Required and Preferred Features for Ultrasound Applications section, we itemize the minimum, preferred, and advantageous scanner features for each of the applications we cover.

There is much confusion over the terminology used to describe a type of ultrasound study or an ultrasound scanner’s configuration. Numerous terms are in use (e.g., conventional, full-sized, transportable, mobile, portable, compact, hand-carried, handheld), but they are often vague and mean different things to different people. For example, some manufacturers call their smaller, cart-based conventional models “portable” only because they weigh less than most conventional models and are therefore easier to transport between departments, while identifying their truly portable models as “compact” or “hand-carried.” And sonographers typically refer to any study as “portable” if it is performed outside the...

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