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Medical Ultrasound Q & A

David Houle and Kelsey Wilken are sonographers with Crawford County Memorial Hospital. The answers to the questions below are provided by these local experts.

What is ultrasound?  People hear about ultrasound but what exactly is it?

David: Ultrasound is a sound wave that is produced by the transducer or our machine. We cannot hear the sound because it’s above 20,000 Hertz. Think about it this way — we’re taking sound and turning it into a picture. Different tissues in the body send back different speeds of sound and that’s how we get our gray, and black and white, picture. When you see the technologist move the wand, we’re bouncing around those sound waves inside and getting that picture back.

Why might someone need an ultrasound?

David: There’s a lot of reasons you may need an ultrasound. Your medical provider may order an echocardiogram if they hear a certain noise in your heart, which is called a murmur. The provider would hear that with a stethoscope, and they may send you to see the ultrasound technician for an echocardiogram to see if we can confirm the murmur they heard. I specialize in echocardiograms and vascular studies. So again, using ultrasound, I look at all the chambers and valves of the heart to make sure they’re functioning properly.

Kelsey: I specialize in abdomen and general ultrasounds. In the abdomen, I can look at the gallbladder, kidneys, and pancreas. I also perform studies for women’s health including pregnancy, gynecological issues like the uterus and ovaries, and breast ultrasounds.

What about 3D ultrasound?

Kelsey: CCMH has a 3D ultrasound machine. Typically, 3D is used for pregnancy. It is used primarily to determine how the baby is developing and to confirm the due date for the baby.

How long does a basic ultrasound appointment last? Where does it take place? Is it uncomfortable? Is there anything a patient would need to do to prepare?

David: We would suggest patients plan on one hour of time overall for an ultrasound appointment including the time needed for check-in at the hospital. Check with your medical provider for the preparations needed for the particular ultrasound study you will receive. In some instances, the patient may have to fast and/or have a full bladder. In other instances, this wouldn’t necessarily be the case. For example, when you come in for an echocardiogram, there is no prep for it so you can come as you are. What I mean by that is you don’t have to fast or drink water or anything. Because we’re just looking at your heart, there’s no prep for the ultrasound. Again, the best practice is to check with your provider and make sure you follow the instructions for the ultrasound procedure you’ll be receiving.

Appointments are necessary for an ultrasound. Depending upon the nature of the exam, especially in the case where it is not an emergency, is there a wait time to get an appointment scheduled?

Kelsey: If the ultrasound needed is not an emergent condition, it could be anywhere from a week to two weeks before the ultrasound could be conducted. If a patient’s condition is emergent, either through a referral from a clinic medical provider or from the ER, the attending provider will call and ask us if there’s any openings. We always take the emergent patient as quickly as possible and complete their study before going back to our regularly scheduled patients. Emergencies are the reason some appointments have to be cancelled and rescheduled. It’s also the reason someone might have to wait a few days to have an ultrasound scheduled.

Who reads the ultrasound images? How do patients get their results from the ultrasound?

David:  Your ultrasound study is read by a radiologist group from Omaha. Their physician will send back a report that goes into the patient’s chart. Usually, tests are read within a day but by the time the patient gets notified it might also be another a day or two.

And who notifies the patient?

David: People are always asking for results. That’s probably the hardest part of the job. As the sonographers, you will not get your results reported to you by us. You get your results from the physician or the medical provider that ordered it.

Kelsey: Just a reminder, a physician or healthcare provider is required to order all of your ultrasound studies with the exception of a mammography. You can schedule a mammogram without an order from a medical provider.

How would someone learn more about the radiology services at CCMH? Or to schedule a mammography?

David: You can call the CCMH radiology department at 265-2651.

Kelsey: And if you have questions, please feel free to ask. We’re here to provide as much information as we can about the tests and talk you through it. We want to lower anxiety levels as much as possible. We also encourage you to talk to your medical provider before your appointment to fully understand why you need the test and the information it will provide toward a diagnosis.

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