Differences in echogenicity of structures in the abdomen can be very subtle, and a good ultrasound machine will allow you to readily distinguish between two adjacent organs with a similar appearance on ultrasound (such as liver and spleen), as well as to see the detail within individual organs, such as the kidney. Lower end starter systems can often deliver a ‘milky’ or ‘washed out’ image.
Such machines can prove to be a false economy for veterinary practices, as users quickly become demoralised and the ultrasound machine ends up being neglected – as opposed to paying for itself quickly by becoming a fundamental part of an examination. It is a rather cruel reality that the best users of poorer quality imaging equipment are, in fact, highly experienced, expert users, whose trained eyes can still glean diagnostic information from these machines. Indeed, expert users have been shown to rate image quality as ‘poor’ for far fewer images than beginner or intermediate users of ultrasound judging the same set of pictures.
Above: Fluid seen around the kidney in a cat (black area to the right of the image). There is also a mass in the kidney, darker and easily differentiated from the surrounding tissue.
This doesn’t mean that every veterinary practice needs to spend £20,000 on their first ultrasound machine, but it does highlight the importance of shopping around to ensure you get the best image quality for your budget, along with expert training and support. Larger ‘we do everything’ companies have to build in large profit margins to support their operations, and may not always deliver the best value for money. Companies for whom ultrasound is an ‘add on,’ such as the x-ray and laser companies you may have seen decorating their stands with Sonoscape ultrasound machines at the London Vet Show, do not specialise in the ultrasound equipment they supply and can offer little in terms of training or support.