Handheld Ultrasound Is Battle-Ready

ByABC News
March 27, 2003, 10:12 AM

March 28 -- A technology widely used for a glimpse at the soon-to-be-born has now been turned into a battlefield unit that may help keep soldiers from dying in Iraq.

Ultrasound gear, in new handheld form, relies on the same technology used to give expectant parents a first look at their unborn. But it comes in a much smaller package.

Compared to conventional cart-based ultrasound machines that can weigh in at 400 pounds, these portable devices weigh less than 6 pounds and can easily be transported in a backpack or even a jacket pocket.

The gear gives emergency room physicians a fast, internal look at trauma victims. In another situation where every second counts on the battlefield it can be used to help military medical personnel determine the best course of treatment for wounded soldiers.

One firm that makes the handheld units is Bothell, Wash.-based SonoSite. So far 300 of its portable ultrasounds have been sold to the Department of Defense, with 150 being deployed with the U.S. military.

"There are systems all over the world, but there are a significant amount of them in the Middle East with all three branches of the military," says Ron Dickson, SonoSite's chief officer of business development.

An Important Imaging Tool

The systems were developed in the mid-1990s at the request of the military, which was looking for a rugged, portable system that could bring the benefits of ultrasound imaging to the battlefield.

Ultrasound has a variety of uses in the initial evaluation of a trauma patient, explains Maj. Craig Manifold, an emergency medicine physician at Wilford Hall Medical Center at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Manifold says portable ultrasounds are used almost daily in Texas, and they have been used in Afghanistan to assess wounded soldiers.

"What [ultrasound] allows us to do is have an imaging capability to look at the chest and the abdomen in order to identify any injuries," he adds. "And more particularly, to identify those patients who may need an urgent operation."