Point-of-care ultrasound has grown rapidly over the last two decades. Practitioners in virtually all fields of medicine have moved ultrasound image acquisition and interpretation out of imaging suites and to the patient's bedside in a multitude of clinical settings. Not unexpectedly, the ultrasound equipment market has developed at an astonishing rate, leading to a wide range of choices of ultrasound equipment available to clinicians.
Manufacturers have pushed the boundaries of ultrasound equipment creating a range of sizes. Top-end machines found in radiology suites are still generally larger machines best suited as stationary pieces of equipment (though even these may be moved fairly easily by a single individual). Smaller and lighter machines are now commonly found throughout hospital and outpatient settings. Durable handheld units are used in the prehospital and military combat settings.1,2 Recently, ultrasound devices small enough to fit into the pocket of a clinician's white coat have been brought to market.
The size of a system should play an important role in purchasing decisions. Cart-based, handheld, and hybrid systems all deserve consideration depending on the clinical environment. Hybrid systems offer a cart from which a handheld component may be removed for easy transport. In general, cart-based systems are higher-end machines offering better imaging and more software options. However, the performance gap between cart-based machines and handheld machines is narrowing.3
The ED and critical care unit generally require some form of cart-based system. Several transducers are necessary for the growing number of applications that emergency and critical care physicians utilize; finding places to set a handheld machine while scanning can be difficult. Cart-based machines have varying amounts of storage space for commonly used adjunct equipment, such as ultrasound gel, transducer sheaths, printers, recording devices, and cleaners.
A removable component is beneficial when other areas of the hospital are covered for “code” situations or when a cart will not fit into the nooks and crannies of a treatment room overflowing with equipment and patients. Handheld-only options may be more appropriate for office-based practices, prehospital providers, and military providers who perform a more limited range of studies in a setting where the importance of small size trumps improved functionality.
Power is generally not the first consideration for clinicians when purchasing ultrasound equipment. However, the ultrasound machine battery power options and boot-up time may make the difference between a tool that is used regularly in practice and one that sits in the corner collecting dust.
Many companies offer products that are powered both via wall outlets and rechargeable battery packs. Most products with batteries allow for seamless use of the device as it is unplugged, which can be a huge advantage in situations where clinicians move quickly between patients.
The boot-up time of a machine is an important consideration. Ultrasound machines that take ...