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Point-of-care ultrasound has grown rapidly over the last 10–15 years. What was once a very small and underserved section of medical imaging has now grown to more than $95 million in sales of compact ultrasound units annually and is predicted to grow to $330 million by 2010.1 Companies are introducing more machines with greater options (Appendices ch2hd50 and ch2hd52). In addition to the traditional large corporate entities, there are a host of upstart companies marketing to nontraditional markets such as emergency medicine, anesthesiology, critical care, and the multitude of office practices in medicine today.

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Portability

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The decreased size and portability of ultrasound machines have made it possible to use the modality outside of the radiology department. Portability has increased to the point that providers are taking point-of-care ultrasound into the prehospital setting and even on the frontlines of military operations.2, 3 Size requirements for ultrasound equipment will change on the basis of the setting and the type of examination that will be performed.

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Both cart-based and compact systems are available. In addition, many compact systems offer a small cart to which the handheld component can be connected and easily removed. This cart will contain peripherals such as a printer, video recorder, and additional transducers. In general, cart-based systems tend to be higher-end machines and offer more options and increased resolution and performance. However, the performance gap between cart-based machines and compact machines is narrowing.4

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The emergency department (ED) generally requires some form of cart-based system, as several probes are necessary for the growing number of applications that are used. Also, finding a place to set down a handheld machine while scanning can be difficult. Cart-based machines have varying amounts of storage space for adjunct equipment commonly used with scanning such as ultrasound gel, probe sheaths, printers, recording devices, and cleaners.

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A removable component of the machine can be beneficial when other areas of the hospital need to be covered for “code” situations or when a cart will not fit into the nooks and crannies of an ED overflowing with patients. Office-based clinicians who limit their ultrasound use to a single probe and health care professionals using their devices outside of the hospital may benefit by having the compact machine without a cart. These machines are very portable and require only limited storage space.

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Power

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A discussion about power may seem superfluous in a discussion about a medical imaging device. How an ultrasound machine is powered and how quickly it boots up may be the difference between a diagnostic tool that is used regularly in practice and one that sits in the corner collecting dust.

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Many companies offer products that are powered via both wall outlets and rechargeable battery packs. Furthermore, most products with batteries allow for the seamless use of the device as it is unplugged. ...

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