Peter Gettings, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist
There are many factors to consider if you are thinking about purchasing an ultrasound machine. It is unlikely to be your own money that you are spending which means that is even more important to do as much as you can to get the most for your money.
I hope this will give some guidance on things to consider, it is certainly not going to be an exhaustive post but it will at least be a starting point for further discussion.
The best place to start is by considering your budget. You can pick up a refurbished scanner that will do a good job for MSK scanning for around £15,000. You can find scanners for less than this but they are likely to be outdated.
Once you have an idea of your budget (ask for prices of refurbished scanners as you will get much better value for money) I would definitely recommend arranging to try out as many machines as possible. There is such a variety out there and you need to be happy with how it works before committing to buy. It is worth looking at scanners above your budget as there is always a deal that can be done to lower the price.
Get to know the sales reps in your area. They will be vitally important in your purchase from letting you test drive some machines all the way through to getting you a good deal if you decide to buy. The best way to get in touch is via the manufacturers’ website.
In my experience the reps are all really helpful and will be able to let you borrow a scanner although the length of time will vary.
Think about where you will be using the scanner. Will it be static in one location or used across multiple sites? As a rule of thumb a bigger scanner will give a better image as it has more space for processing power but you can’t easily take a cart based scanner from site to site. If you go too small for ultraportability you tend to lose functionality. There are plenty of laptop sized scanners that are great for physiotherapy departments and are a good compromise between cost/portability & image quality.
As with everything you buy, you get what you pay for, so have a think about what you will be scanning and do you need to pay extra to get it? Most functions will come as standard; things like callipers, harmonic imaging, edge enhancement, colour and power Doppler are all entry level.
If you are just starting out do you really need needle visualisation or elastography? They are nice luxuries but they will cost extra and can all be added on later.
Most probes these days are multi-frequency (eg 6-15MHz) and generally speaking for MSK scanning you will need a high frequency linear probe.
If you will be doing a mixed caseload I would suggest starting with a normal linear probe with a small footprint as you will be able to use this for everything.
If the majority of your caseload is hands or feet then it is worth considering a ‘hockey stick’ probe as these are generally higher resolution with a much smaller footprint which is ideal for getting around the bony surfaces
All scanners can be used for needle guidance but some scanners have software that will enhance the needle to make it easier to see when injecting. This is the sort of option that you could negotiate to get thrown in for free.