Hand-held ultrasound is ultrasound technology engineered to fit into a device which can easily be carried, in contrast with a conventional ultrasound machine, which is usually quite bulky, in addition to being tethered to a power source. There are a number of advantages to downsizing ultrasound technology so that it can slip into a doctor's pocket or field kit, and several manufacturers have competing designs on the market for people to choose from. A few innovative technicians have even designed their own.
Ultrasound technology involves the generation of acoustic pulses. These pulses can be used in a variety of ways, depending on their intensity. Low-intensity ultrasound is used as a diagnostic device to look inside the human body by bouncing pulses against internal structures and reading them upon their return. High-intensity ultrasound is used in medical procedures to do things like cauterize wounds, break up kidney stones, and zap tumors so that they will stop growing.
Historically, people have relied on bulky ultrasound machines when they need to perform a procedure which requires ultrasound. This equipment can be extremely expensive, and people need special training to work with it. It also cannot be used in the field, because field medicine relies on lightweight, portable items which can be easily carried by a doctor.
With hand-held ultrasound, doctors can take ultrasound to the field in situations like battlefields and rescue operations. Hand-held ultrasound technology is also less costly than conventional machines, making it accessible to clinics with a minimal operating budget, and with the right training, this equipment can be very effective. In the developing world, for example, a donation of hand-held ultrasound devices to a needy medical clinic could have immediate and useful results, and people would be able to use the battery-powered devices during power outages.
For field diagnosis, hand-held ultrasound can be used to look into the body to learn more about a patient's complaint and arrive at a diagnosis and treatment recommendation. The technology could also replace things like stethoscopes, with doctors using the ultrasound to look right at the heart to see how well it is functioning, rather than trying to hear problems. The ability to quickly and safety cauterize wounds to stop bleeding can also be very useful, in the case of high-intensity portable machines.
The main caution involved in hand-held ultrasound is that people require special training in ultrasonography to learn how to read ultrasound images and interpret them properly. A doctor who had not been properly trained could misdiagnose a condition, fail to see a problem, or identify a medical issue where none exists.