With the start of 2014 Hillcrest Animal Hospital made a pair of major purchases designed to increase the quality of care we can deliver to our patients. Our first investment was the purchase of a digital x-ray system which allows us to obtain better quality radiographs (x-rays) than we could achieve before. We were always very proud of the quality of the x-rays we achieved with the old film technology, but there is no doubt that the digital system takes significantly better ones. The purchase of this unit also allowed us to better utilize experts like Dr. Laura Crews who is a certified veterinary radiologist with years of high-level experience behind her. Digital x-rays are easily transmitted over the internet to specialists like Dr. Crews who help us to interpret difficult or confusing cases.
In mid-May we also purchased a state-of-the-art ultrasound unit. Ultrasound can be invaluable in diagnosing problems in many regions of the body, but is particularly valuable when it comes to the abdominal organs. Ultrasound is actually very often used in conjunction with x-rays to gain a more complete picture of what is going on inside a patients body. X-rays (particularly digital ones) are very good at creating a broad general picture of the abdomen but lack the ability necessary to diagnose many conditions. A veterinarian will use an x-ray to determine the area of interest within the abdomen and then go to ultrasound in an effort to get more information about the area without the need for surgery. Armed with this sort of information we can do a better job of determining whether a patient needs surgery to treat or diagnose a problem.
Ultrasound also excels at discovering a number of foreign objects that do not show up on x-ray, particularly plastic, cloth and wood which are transparent to x-rays. When we only have x-rays to go on it is often very difficult to decide whether a bowel is blocked by one of these objects. This can lead to performing “exploratory” surgeries, especially for foreign objects in the bowel, when the veterinarian is not completely certain that they are present. With ultrasound we get another layer of certainty before we will recommend surgery.
One of the major uses of ultrasound is to allow the measurement of the thickness or size of the organs as well as the density of the organ tissue. This information can be very important in diagnosing certain diseases like gall bladder infections and various conditions and disease of the liver, kidney, bowel and bladder disease. It can also help in the diagnosis of certain hormonal disorders (particularly of the adrenal glands), and the discovery of certain forms of cancer. The list of the uses of ultrasound is very long indeed.
The hurdle that practitioners face with ultrasound is that it takes training and practice to become good at not only using the unit, but at interpreting the images on the screen. Using the same technology we use with our digital x-rays we will be using Dr. Crews to help us to analyze and interpret our ultrasound scans. We will be using Dr. Crews a lot (and taking a lot of courses!) until our skills have matured to the point where we feel confident enough to “take the training wheels off” and ride on our own.
Dr. Mike Steen