By Keith Hamm
When my team and I are in the field on ultrasound service calls, one of the most common issues we see are artifacts in the image. These abnormalities can be frustrating for the end users and HTM professionals. They are often intermittent and can be caused by many different factors. They can also affect our customer’s ability to complete a diagnostic exam. To determine the cause of an image artifact issue, we look at three main factors: the environment, the transducer and the ultrasound system.
The environment in which the ultrasound system resides can largely affect the image quality. When addressing image artifacts in the field, be aware of your location and confirm that there are no other medical systems in close proximity. Outside interference from other medical equipment is a growing issue as more facilities start to expand their diagnostic imaging capabilities. This issue is typically easy to overcome. Simply remove the ultrasound from its current environment and relocate it to a place away from CT or MRI systems that can cause interference.
Aside from the environment, malfunctions within the ultrasound equipment are the most likely source of an artifact. Image artifacts typically escape the modern test tools and error logs of current systems. Changing system variables is an easy way to work around this and troubleshoot or eliminate issues. Start by moving the transducer to another available connection on the system and look for any changes in the scan field. If you have the availability of another ultrasound system, move the transducer to another system and look to see if the artifact follows. If the artifact is present when the transducer is used with another connection or system, then the problem will most likely be in the ultrasound transducer.
The transducer, or probe, can certainly affect image quality. The artifact could come from several key components of the probe. Inspect the probe from the scanhead to the connector, looking for any physical or diagnostic abnormalities. Beginning with the lens, check for delamination, or separation of the lens material from the crystal, by running your finger across the lens. Look for air bubbles or bunching of the material. The array or crystal is another area of focus. Check the array or crystal for physical damage and any areas of missing information within the diagnostic scan field.
As the cable is often the cause of artifacts, because it houses a large number of individual wires, be sure to physically and visually inspect the length of the cable for any signs of damage. One of the most difficult areas to inspect are the wires within the cable. Carefully flex the cable from side to side over the length of the probe and look for any changes within the diagnostic scan field. Transducer connectors should also be inspected for bent, broken, damaged, missing or dirty pins or contacts. Cleaning dirty pins or contacts with a blast of air, contact cleaner or alcohol is recommended. Image artifacts can also be caused by a poor probe connection. Reseating the probe is a simple solution.
If the artifact was not altered during the initial transducer test, this could point to a hardware defect within the system. Such errors could include the transducer interface or front-end board. To confirm if the error is indeed a hardware defect, I recommend trying a different probe of the same model to see if the artifact is exclusive to the ultrasound machine itself. Most probe repair facilities have loaner probes available to help troubleshoot or repair.
Image issues can also be caused by corrupted user-defined presets. To avoid this, always use factory default presets when troubleshooting. When testing ultrasound systems in the field, it’s also important to remember that image quality is subjective based on many factors including the user’s perception, skill level, custom presets, the patient’s body type and the difficulty of the procedure. Always take these variables into consideration when troubleshooting, and eliminate as many components as you can.
– Keith Hamm is an imaging service professional for Avante Health Solutions. For 24/7 technical support, call 800-958-9986 or visit www.avantehs.com/ultrasound
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