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Ultrasound Image Quality Troubleshooting Tips

August 23, 2023

During our fieldwork on ultrasound calls, my team and I frequently encounter a prevalent issue—artifacts in the image. These abnormalities can be frustrating for both end users and HTM professionals, as they are often intermittent and caused by various factors. Moreover, they can impede our customers' capacity to conduct a thorough diagnostic examination. To pinpoint the root cause of an image artifact problem, we focus on three key factors: the environment, the transducer, and the ultrasound system.

The environment in which the ultrasound system is situated significantly influences image quality. When tackling image artifacts in the field, it's important to consider your surroundings and ensure that no other medical systems are in close proximity. The emergence of external interference from other medical equipment is becoming more frequent as facilities broaden their diagnostic imaging capabilities. Fortunately, addressing this concern is often straightforward. By relocating the ultrasound from its current setting to an area away from CT or MRI systems that might lead to interference, you can readily resolve this issue.

Beyond the environment, malfunctions within the ultrasound equipment often stand as the primary culprits behind artifacts. Image artifacts usually elude detection by modern test tools and error logs in contemporary systems. Modifying system variables presents an uncomplicated method to navigate around these issues, allowing for troubleshooting and resolution. Begin by shifting the transducer to another available connection on the system, observing any alterations in the scan field. If you have access to an alternative ultrasound system, transfer the transducer to that system and observe whether the artifacts persist. If the artifact remains present when the transducer is used with another connection or system, then the likelihood is high that the problem lies within the ultrasound transducer.

The transducer, or probe, undoubtedly plays a role in influencing image quality. Artifacts could potentially originate from various crucial components of the probe. Conduct a thorough inspection of the probe, covering from the scanhead to the connector, while searching for any physical or diagnostic irregularities. Begin your examination with the lens—run your fingers across it to detect any delamination or separation of the lens material from the crystal. Additionally, scrutinize the lens for the presence of air bubbles or material bunching. Another critical focus area is the array or crystal. Examine it closely for signs of physical damage and any regions within the diagnostic scan field where information might be missing.

Given that the cable often contributes to artifacts due to the presence of numerous individual wires, it's crucial to engage in both physical and visual examinations of the cable's entire length to identify any signs of damage. Among the more challenging areas to inspect are the wires nestled within the cable. To scrutinize these wires, carefully flex the cable from side to side along the probe's length and watch for any alterations within the diagnostic scan field. Furthermore, conduct a thorough inspection of transducer connectors for signs of broken, bent, damaged, or missing pins or contacts. Should any pins or contacts be soiled, cleaning them with a blast of air, contact cleaner, or alcohol is recommended. Poor probe connection can also give rise to image artifacts. Thankfully, resolving this issue is straightforward—simply reseating the probe can often rectify it.

If the artifact remains unchanged after the initial transducer test, this might indicate a hardware defect within the system. Such malfunctions could involve the transducer interface or the front-end board. To ascertain whether the error indeed stems from hardware, I suggest trying a different probe of the same model to determine if the artifact persists across the ultrasound machine itself. For your convenience, many probe repair facilities, like Avante, offer loaner probes that can aid in troubleshooting or repair procedures.

Image problems can also arise from corrupted user-defined presets. To prevent this, it's advisable to consistently rely on factory default presets during troubleshooting. Additionally, when conducting tests on ultrasound systems in the field, it's imperative to bear in mind that image quality is subjective and hinges on various factors. These include user perception, skill level, custom presets, the patient's body type, and the complexity of the procedure. It's essential to account for these variables diligently while troubleshooting and strive to eliminate as many contributing components as possible.

For more information about Avante’s field service and probe repair capabilities, call one of our experts at 800-979-6742.