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What will 2018 bring for human and veterinary ultrasound?

A message from founder, Catherine Stowell

I’ve worked with ultrasound now for almost a decade. I was first introduced to the technology when working for a remarketing firm in St Louis, Missouri (USA). I was allocated a portfolio of medical equipment, and my job was to work out what it all did, what worked and what didn’t, and who might want to buy it.

I met so many experienced and talented people from across the United States – from ultrasound engineers to medical doctors – who were happy to teach me about the technology and talk me through quality testing and troubleshooting.

I returned back to London in 2009, and with the support of a contact I’d made in Seattle, began sourcing Sonoscape and Kai Xin ultrasound equipment for veterinary use in the UK (under the name of ‘R C Ultrasound Ltd’). I was also able to supply difficult-to-source transducers through my international contacts in larger markets, such as old Esaote model probes, for practices that would otherwise have had to replace an entire machine.

In 2011, I launched Vet Image Solutions with a business partner, focusing on Sonoscape, Kai Xin and Landwind ultrasound equipment. I began to attend international medical exhibitions to make sure I was always up to date with the latest technologies, and compare brands side-by-side to ensure that my clients were getting the best value for money.

I also had a new mission. I’d begun to receive enquiries from dog breeders who were interested in learning how to scan for pregnancy in canines. At that time, the only people offering canine scans were sheep scanners, using old mechanical sector technology which didn’t provide much by way of image quality. Dog breeders didn’t want colour or Doppler – they needed reliable, good value portable ultrasound machines that would deliver a clear image – so I began to scour the major medical shows for equipment that would meet their needs.

By 2012, we’d sourced the right equipment and were running our first ultrasound training courses for dog breeders. The first one was hosted in Bristol and taught by Stephen Constable. We continued to repeat these courses every 8 months or so in our local county of Kent, and also in Warwickshire (picked due to its accessibility from other parts of the UK). Later, we made contact with obstetric sonographer Sarah Tingey, and through her, Yvette Lovis, and it was through these experts that we were able to put together course notes for our students.

During this time, I’d also begun to work closely with a Polish ultrasound company called Draminski, and with the support of Michal there, began to offer dog pregnancy detectors, ovulation detectors, mastitis detectors for cattle, and heavy-duty cattle scanners, as well as working on small projects with miniature horses, llamas and alpacas. We ran our first DEFRA-approved cattle scan training course in 2013 using Draminski ultrasound scanners, in partnership with Ray at VetSonic and Peter May, one the UK’s leading cattle vets. After this, we worked closely with Draminski to develop the iScan – a big upgrade to electronic rather than mechanical sector technology – but a change of management and direction at the company meant that we went our separate ways in 2016.

In 2014, Yvette had written our level 2 course, designed for experienced canine pregnancy scanners who wanted to learn more advanced techniques. I’d also begun my Masters in Medical Ultrasound at Imperial College London, specialising in Echocardiography and graduating in 2015 with Distinction. The canine pregnancy scanning environment in the UK had by now undergone a lot of changes, and was (and currently is) under increasing pressure from cheap substandard equipment imported in from China (almost always illegally, as recently featured on Panorama’s documentary on VAT fraud from eBay sellers). This equipment invariably provides poor images (usually with transducers not even fit for purpose), compounded by the fact that it is in the hands of untrained and uninsured individuals, many of whom have no scruples about scanning other people’s animals and charging them for the privilege.

More recently, ‘copycat’ companies have sprung up offering ultrasound training courses, run not by sonographers but by people they’ve sent on Vet Image Solutions training days who simply attempt to regurgitate Yvette’s lectures in exchange for hundreds of pounds. This will ultimately result in yet more people in the market who are ill-equipped and completely untrained. In response to this dangerous situation which threatens not only the industry but animals’ lives, the Animal Ultrasound Association was founded in 2016, with the long-term goal of accrediting trained and experienced individuals and providing a place where customers can go to verify the quality of the scanning professional before booking their pet in for a scan.

Alongside this on-going project, in 2017, I obtained my BSE accreditation in Echocardiography and currently scan cardiac patients 4 days per week within the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. I continue my work with animals, currently working with Yvette Lovis and FarmTech Solutions to develop a canine pregnancy scanning course for North America and developing a new line of ultrasound systems, specialised for dog and goat breeders. I also continue to attend all major medical exhibitions around the globe, accompanied by friends and colleagues who are themselves highly specialised sonographers. Together, we put equipment through its paces, ask the manufacturers challenging questions and fight for better pricing for our clients.

2018 is set to be an exciting year for portableultrasoundmachines.co.uk. We’ve just launched our brand new website thanks to the design skills and hosting of Darwin Digital in Liverpool, and are in the process of introducing two new top-of-the-range echocardiography machines along with veterinary echo training (for veterinarians only). We’ve added Brazilian Portuguese translations to our
site, due to a growing number of enquiries from Brazil from small animal vets, echocardiographers, and questions regarding beef meat grading.

We’re improving our digital training courses all the time for our dog and goat breeders in international locations, and having an online assessment module is a goal for early 2018.

Personally, I’m trying to address the current lack of appropriate literature in the market – with all current animal ultrasound books having been written for veterinarians – and working on a book for breeders, to consolidate their physics knowledge and support their continued learning in ultrasonography. We’ve expanded our range to incorporate fantastic mid-range ultrasound systems, such as the Edan U50, as well as the usual unbeatable deals on entry level systems with dedicated expert support from real sonographers. We’re also looking into manufacturers who provide high quality transosophageal probes suitable for veterinary use, to support our TOE training modules.

 

More information on some of the projects I’ve been involved in over the past few years can be found below:

– The Animal Ultrasound Association project, ongoing since 2016, dedicated to safe canine ultrasound scanning
– Ultrasound for meat grading of British livestock with EBLEX
– Ultrasound for sheep muscle depth measurement in Switzerland
– Ultrasound for nerve blocking anaesthesia research
– Ultrasound for Meerkat pregnancy scanning, University of Cambridge
– Ultrasound project with Simon Cowell’s Wildlife Aid in Surrey

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