Three-dimensional medicine

Mawson Station Doctor Glenn Browning using the ultrasound on a patient
Mawson Station Doctor Glenn Browning using the ultrasound (Photo: Glenn Browning)

Three-dimensional diagnostic ultrasound machines are set to help Antarctic doctors improve the accuracy of patient diagnosis in the event of serious illness or trauma.

Unlike conventional ultrasound machines, which produce two-dimensional images of the body, the new machines collect a larger and more detailed three-dimensional block of data.

The data can then be sent to a specialist radiologist back in Australia, who can 'virtually scan' through the block in all three planes to find the problem and make a diagnosis.

The machines were recently installed at Australia's Antarctic and subantarctic stations as part of a collaborative effort by doctors from the Australian Antarctic Division, radiographers from the Royal Perth Hospital in Western Australia, and medical equipment manufacturer GE Healthcare.

While the new machines make it easier for general practitioners to collect images for specialist diagnosis, they are complex pieces of equipment to learn to use. Simplified protocols are now being developed which detail the steps required to collect an accurate image, including the correct positioning of the ultrasound probe and recording and sending the data.

'It's impossible to train our doctors in all facets of medical care, so we decided to develop new protocols for the ultrasound machine to enable personnel with minimal training to use the equipment,' Antarctic Division Medical Officer, Graham Denyer, says.

The new protocols will be finalized, validated by a blinded medical research study, and implemented by the end of the year. It is hoped the protocols can be used in other remote areas in Australia and even in space.

Nisha Harris
Corporate Communications, AAD