I suggested in 2006, quite prematurely as it turns out, that portable ultrasound devices would become common in the pockets of medical students (see: Portable Ultrasound Devices Introduced into Medical School Curriculum). Various medical schools have experimented since then with programs for supplying them to their students (see: World's Smallest Ultrasound Device Unveiled; Advances in Portable Ultrasound Devices). A recent article commented on the latest iteration of the use of this technology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (see: Seeing Is Believing: Mount Sinai School of Medicine Aims to Revolutionize Medical School Program). Below is an excerpt from it:
First-year medical students at Mount Sinai School of Medicine will be the first in New York to be introduced to a digital-age ultrasound device that can visualize inside the body, and fit directly into the pockets of their brand new white coats. The visualization tool, made by GE Healthcare, is a handheld ultrasound device called Vscan, and is roughly the footprint of a smartphone. The Vscan houses innovative technology that can provide an immediate, non-invasive method to secure visual information from inside the body. A total of 72 pocket-sized devices will be provided for use in a research study and distributed to teams of first year medical school students that make up the 140-member Class of 2016. The objective of the study is to demonstrate that handheld imaging technology can contribute to medical education at all levels of instruction and learning.....“First year medical students traditionally learn about the human body by dissecting the cadavers and eventually by examining the patients, and the examination ranges from inspection and palpation to listening with the help of a stethoscope and interpreting the sounds of the heart, lungs and blood vessels,” says [the primary investigator] of this research study....“With handheld ultrasound, our medical students will have the ability to see live images of inside the body projected onto a handheld screen in real time. It’s an innovative educational concept that can modernize medical education.” In fact, [he] believes that imaging and specifically handheld devices will become an integral part of the physical examination. As part of the study, handheld ultrasound will be added to the curriculum of first year students....to augment their physical examination skills. Groups of four students will share the device as they learn about the capabilities of ultrasound
When I previously discussed the use of portable ultrasound devices by medical students, I primarily thought of the devices as diagnostic tools for detecting disease during physical exams. This article highlighted for me what is probably a more important goal for medical students: development of a better understanding of the normal anatomy of patients. Back in the day, such an understanding was gained during gross anatomy classes with the dissection of a cadaver. Some of this didactic work has now been replaced by the use of computerized gross anatomy programs. However, it seems to me that non-invasive visualization of organs in a living, breathing patient during a physical exam by students would be extremely useful.
It seems to me that budding surgeons benefit most from cadaver dissection. The majority of physicians in training, however, will and should be more concerned with issues such as the size of organs, their relationship to neighboring organs, the presence of fluids in body cavities, and lymphadenopathy. Ultrasound devices can provide information about all of these questions. The introduction of portable ultrasound devices into medical schools has not moved as quickly as I had initially anticipated but I am certainly enthusiastic about this current report. Perhaps the pace will pick up, particularly if companies like GE put them in the hands of student at very low cost. This will aid in the more general adoption of the technology.