Sponsored by Innovatus Imaging
I’ve often been asked, “Are there certain types of ultrasound probes that are more fragile than others?” or, “Are there certain probes that are more prone to damage than others?” I can confidently say, “It’s a firm maybe.” A better way to frame my response would be to say, “There are certain probe types that pose greater challenges for proper care and handling than others.” For this article, let’s focus on standard probes, versus TEE, as standard probe types comprise about 90% of all probes in a facility, and TEE probes have their own challenges when it comes to proper care and handling. Asked that same question, I would now reply. “No matter the make or model, endo-cavity probes pose some of the greatest challenges related to longevity, rates of failure and severity of failure.”
A common failure related to endo-cavity probes is image dropout in the center of the scan image. Image dropout is anything from a well-defined vertical line to a blurry, shadowy area of no information (hypoechoic artifact) within the scan image. The root cause of most of these failures is traumatic damage to the acoustic array. The words “traumatic damage” typically evoke thoughts of cracks, fractures, crushes or some type of physical damage. With endo-cavity probes, many times there are no outward signs of trauma whatsoever. None!
At one time, what is now referred to as the acoustic array, was called “the crystals” because primitive technologies used quartz for its piezoelectric qualities. Some sonographers still, to this day, refer to the array as such. Pause to think for a minute. Dropping a ceramic mug or similar item typically results in shattered glass all over the floor, and the weight of an ultrasound scanhead is about that of a mug or glass.
Inherent to their design, the arrays in endo-cavity probes are extremely thin, just about 0.5mm. They also have an extremely fine pitch meaning there may be up to 192 individual acoustic elements within a 1-inch space. Even though the array is covered by the silicone rubber lens and encased within the plastic probe housing, many non-traumatic events over-time or just one accidental fall from a scanner could shatter the elements within the array. Although there may be no, or minimal, signs of external trauma, electronic and acoustic testing can confirm that impact(s) have catastrophically damaged the acoustic array. This is analogous to a patient who complains of severe headaches. Physical examination may not reveal head trauma, but a CT or MRI can confirm that a concussion has occurred. Due to the top-heavy nature of endo-cavity probes, when they fall, most times the impact is to the top of the probe or the array.
Even though user manuals may not provide specific guidance for endo-cavity probes, there are some best practices that can be employed by end-users to reduce the occurrences of accidental trauma.
It’s standard practice to rinse endo-cavity probes post-use and prior to being high-level disinfected. If consistent, careful and meticulous, handling is not employed during the cleaning process, catastrophic array damage is possible. Accidental drops to the counter or to the rinse sink, or minor impacts to hard surfaces, such as countertops can, over-time, shatter the delicate array elements.
Another common failure with endo-cavity probes is catastrophic electronic failures due to gross fluid invasion. The probe housings of endo-cavity probes are usually a multi-piece design. The adhesives and sealants that join the various sections of the housings can wear and degrade over-time through repeated disinfection cycles, accidental trauma, use of incorrect chemicals or even if a repair is performed using an unvalidated adhesive. Tiny voids, cracks or openings in the probe housing or acoustic lens can allow gel, water or disinfecting solution to enter the probe. This can lead to a risk of catastrophic array damage, electronic failures, electrical shock and cross-contamination. User manuals typically recommend that sonographers inspect every probe prior to every use, but they don’t usually provide specific guidance for endo-cavity probes. Some best practices are:
Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It was true over 200 years ago and it is still true today. Innovatus Imaging is committed to assisting customers with implementing best practice to ensure maximum longevity with their imaging devices to complement our sustainable repairs.
Ted Lucidi, CBET, is a clinical marketing and commercialization specialist at Innovatus Imaging. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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