Can You Fake an Ultrasound in Real Time?

Gerard Asks:

I came across your blog as I was googling my question. This week, I was watching Grey’s Anatomy (Season 14, episode 18) in which an unscrupulous (or maybe it he was just a fraud?) doctor was giving false diagnoses for breast cancer through ultrasound—I think to sell treatment?

Knowing a little about computers, I wondered how that could be possible. Can an ultrasound store the millions of images or 3d imaging from another patient to be “played” on another patient? Of course, I wrecked the show for my wife by questioning the episode she was enjoying.

So, in case I’m all wet in my assumptions, is it possible to fake an ultrasound in real time?

Jordyn Says:

Hi Gerard! Thanks for submitting your question to me. The perfect person to answer your question is Redwood’s resident medical expert, Shannon Moore Redmon.

Shannon Says:

Today’s ultrasound technology does offer the ability to record video clips that an extremely unethical doctor could replay while pretending to scan a patient with a probe. Most patients would not know the difference between normal breast tissue compared to a malignant mass and the shape of the entire breast isn’t really a factor on the ultrasound screen, since we’re only scanning a small section at a time.

With that said, the hoax displayed in the Grey’s Anatomy episode – Hold Back The River, would be difficult to achieve in real medical life.

Gold Standard

First, ultrasound is not the Gold Standard for detecting breast cancer. That role belongs to mammography (x-rays of the breast). Highly trained technologists position and complete several different mammography views. Ultrasound simply supports suspicious lesions first detected on these images. Doctors use the scan to provide more information and ultrasound should never be used alone to detect malignancy. I hope most patients would not simply take a doctor’s word based on an ultrasound alone when determining whether they have breast cancer or not.

When a mass is identified on a mammogram and followed up with ultrasound, these images or video clips do not give a complete diagnosis of cancer. We can suspect cancer by the appearance of the mass we see, but the only way to know for sure if the mass is malignant, is through a biopsy. Stereotactic breast biopsies are often performed at imaging centers or hospitals. A large needle is used to take samples of the mass and then send them off for pathology testing. Those results tell if a mass is cancerous or not. If the patient is not a candidate for stereotactic breast biopsy, then the mass can be removed in surgery and sent to pathology for testing.

Appearance

When a sonographer finds a suspicious mass on ultrasound, we look for several factors in the appearance. Is it solid or fluid filled? Does is have smooth borders or finger-like spiculations extending into normal tissue? Does a shadow present posterior to the mass? The mass shown during the episode did not meet the specified criteria for malignancy. Let’s break the moment down:

The doctor shows the female character a mass on the screen. There was no shadowing posterior. The borders were smooth and looked like the normal tissue adjacent to it. The area the physician suggested was solid but had a Cooper’s ligament running through the tissue which is typical for a normal lobe of the breast. I’ve included an ultrasound image of a true malignant mass, so you can see for yourself what a true breast cancer might look like on ultrasound. I think you’ll find the video clip played in the scene looked nothing like the true cancer below.

 

 

 

Exam Inaccuracies

During the scene, a swishing heartbeat noise can be heard in the room. Grey’s Anatomy seems to think that when an ultrasound is being used, every machine creates this noise. Let me assure you, that’s unrealistic.

The noise heard in the background is created by a Doppler sample of a vascular structure, such as an unborn baby’s heartbeat or blood flowing through an artery. Neither of these were being scanned during our breast exam.

When no Doppler is activated on the screen, this sound cannot be heard. But yet, we have the heartbeat noise once again. I wish someone at Grey’s Anatomy would update their sound effects team.

After the blond female doctor goes back to Seattle Grace, she has her doctor friend scan her breast to make sure there is no cancer. The doctor who performs the scan and supposed to be knowledgeable enough to detect breast cancer, is holding the wrong probe. She should be holding a linear transducer used in high frequency imaging and provides a rectangular footprint on the screen. Instead, her probe is curved and used for abdominal and pelvic scanning because of the lower frequency range.

Another flaw in the episode is how all these doctors are experts at performing scans in every area of the body. In real life, trained, registered sonographers and technologist work in these modalities. They would be the ones to execute the imaging. Then a radiologist would read the exam and communicate with the surgeon or other physicians. But once again on TV, we see the Grey’s Anatomy doctors performing all the imaging exams. No sonographers or technologists around anywhere. So unrealistic and a little insulting.

I think it is time for the Grey’s Anatomy team to hold back more than the river— they need to hold back on performing any more ultrasounds until they consult a living breathing registered Sonographer.

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Shannon Moore Redmon writes romantic suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

Kardashian Style Ultrasounds on Reality TV

Critics who say reality TV is fake must not watch the ultrasound scenes on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. On a recent episode, Khloe Kardashian visits an infertility doctor with her sister, Kim, and receives an ultrasound of her uterus and ovaries.

Instead of being like most Hollywood scripted shows, KUWTK portrays this scene with spot-on accuracy. Watch the video below… (Caution: Some adult language is censored during this scene).

What KUWTK did right

We can all see that this doctor’s visit is legit. Maybe it was scripted, but at least they recorded the ultrasound as true to real life. Here are the things they did right and something Hollywood needs to study for future TV shows.

1) The physician has the machine turned at the appropriate angle. It is facing the physician and pulled down where he can reach the dashboard. The camera still is able to give him plenty of TV time while Khloe and Kim can watch the scan on the wall monitor.

2) Khloe is pretty much covered with a paper sheet during the scan and the physician or sonographer inserts the probe. This is a very accurate scenario for a real life internal vaginal ultrasound. Sonographers and physicians who scan make sure the patient is comfortable and covered while the scan is being completed. We utilize vaginal scanning to view the uterus and ovaries and also first trimester babies. We scan on top of the belly for second and third trimester pregnancies or other types of imaging.

 3) The machine is relatively quiet. The only noise heard in the background is the cooling fan on the system. No heartbeats or added sound effects are slipped into the scene to make it seem more authentic. Finally, TV got this detail correct.

4) The physician uses the appropriate probe and the appropriate anatomy is shown on the screen. The images we see on the monitor are the uterus and ovaries.  Many times, shows present anatomy on the screen that doesn’t match the discussion they are having or the sounds coming from the machine.

5) The ultrasound equipment is a top of the line GE ultrasound machine. No ancient relic from the 1980s being thrown into a scene because it’s the only thing in the props room. Hollywood must think no one will know the difference. This physician uses modern ultrasound technology to do his job.

Reality TV might get a bad rap for not being truly “reality”, but this scene was the most accurate ultrasound example on TV to date. Maybe Hollywood films and television directors need to learn from Keeping Up with the Kardashians as an example of what to do when filming an ultrasound scene.

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Shannon Moore Redmon writes romantic suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

Author Beware: Inaccurate Ultrasound Scenes Part 2/2

Today, we’re concluding Shannon’s series on how to write medically accurate ultrasound scenes. You can find Part I here. Today, Shannon is covering tips #3-#5.

Welcome back, Shannon!

Tip #3: Sonographers scan in the ultrasound department most of the time.

Most scans are performed in the designated ultrasound department for their exams, unless they are in active labor, in the ICU or for some astronomical reason, cannot leave their room. Even in the emergency department, if the patient can be transported to the department, then they will be.

Portable ultrasounds are performed on serious cases when the physician does not want the patient moved for some pertinent reason.

 For Writers: If your character needs an ultrasound exam, is conscious, can move well, or sit in a wheelchair, send them to the ultrasound department.

Tip #4:  Sonographers like top of the line equipment.

One television scene at a top-rated hospital showed a tiny little ultrasound machine from the 1990’s being used for the exam. Seriously?

Get rid of the outdated equipment. The machines in top-rated healthcare systems are the best of the best, large and full-sized pieces of equipment.

Modern portable systems look like laptops, are smaller, and are taken to the inpatient rooms or ICU.

Some facilities provide their ER and L&D doctors with tiny devices the size of a cell phone to carry in their pocket for quick peeks, not full anatomy exams.

For Writers: When describing the machine look at top of the line equipment with GE, Philips, Samsung or other manufacturers. This will give you a good idea of what is being used in the real medical world.

Tip #5:  Sonographers know where to place the probe.

Make sure the anatomy showing on the screen matches the location of the probe and the anatomy being discussed is displayed.

One television scene I witnessed had the actor place the probe in the middle of the abdomen, but a kidney presented on the screen. Sonographers know the kidneys are located on the sides of the abdomen, not in the top middle.

If you’re listening to the baby’s heart on a second or third trimester baby, then the heart will display on the screen. Not the brain, fingers, and toes.

If investigating the liver, then the probe needs to be placed on the right side of the abdomen. With the spleen, move the probe to the left side.

If it is a first trimester scan, then a vaginal exam will be performed. If the baby is in the second or third trimester, then the probe is placed on top of the abdomen.

For writers:  Research anatomy and physiology on the internet or in books before writing the ultrasound scene. Make sure the location is correct and the disease process is represented accurately. If unsure, then find a nurse, physician or medical professional to ask or connect with Jordyn and me.

When researching a specific topic, perform a google search, but select a credible source. Choose sites that end with .edu, .org, or .gov. Those tend to be most accurate. Sometimes I will use others, but always back it up with a healthcare system education site like Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, or the government site (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

Don’t be like one famous author, whose patient’s venous blood clot, located in the leg, traveled to the brain and caused a stroke. However, in real life, strokes most often come from the carotid arteries and heart. Venous blood clots in the legs kill when they break off and travel to the lungs.

Shannon, thank you so much for this valuable insight. I know I learned a lot.

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Shannon Moore Redmon writes Romance Suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

 

Author Beware: Inaccurate Ultrasound Scenes Part 1/2

Redwood’s Medical Edge is pleased to host Shannon Moore Redmon, an ultrasound sonographer, and she’s offering her insights on how to write ultrasound scenes accurately. I know I’ve learned a few things for sure. Today, we’ll cover tips #1 and #2.

Welcome, Shannon!

Americans love to watch medical television shows, like Grey’s Anatomy, ER, or House. We buy up the latest medical thriller and discover the scientific world of healthcare.

What many fail to recognize are the glaring inaccuracies associated with the ultrasound profession and the exams being performed on the television screen. Such scenes contain incorrect anatomy, probes placed in wrong positions, or actors who need more camera face time and scan patients backwards.

Doesn’t Hollywood consult experts when they use ultrasound to determine an abnormality of a baby or find cancer in a patient’s liver?

As a registered diagnostic medical sonographer for over twenty years and an instructor who teaches others to utilize this amazing modality, here are five tips to make those ultrasound scenes more accurate.

Tip #1:  Sonographers perform the majority of scans.

Whether in a hospital setting, an outpatient center, most OB/Gyn offices, vascular offices, and general imaging facilities, registered sonographers are the ones who perform the majority of ultrasounds on patients . . . not doctors.

In my experience, sonographers scan the patient first and sometimes are the only one who take the images. If a patient is high-risk OB, a sonographer will scan her first, then a maternal fetal medicine doctor will scan after to confirm the diagnosis.

When abdominal or vascular ultrasounds are performed, sonographers scan these patients and the reading physician or surgeon may come into the room to discuss with the patient. More than likely, they will read the images from a digital archiving system located in their office down the hall, then attach a report to the patient’s medical record.

Most episodes on television have a doctor performing the exam. Where have all the sonographers gone? Having lunch together down by the river?

For writers: When writing your ultrasound scenes, let the sonographer take the images and discuss the case with the reading physician. If you want to ratchet up the drama, then let them have a heated discussion over what the sonographer believes she sees versus what the physician thinks he knows.

Great radiologists and reading physicians will critique a sonographer’s images and call them out on sloppy pictures. Sonographers will defend their opinions and their patients when a doctor minimizes the seriousness of the findings with a list of differential diagnoses or refuses to discuss the diagnosis with the patient. This happens in real life.

Tip #2:  Sonographers turn off the sound of the heartbeat.

In the famous Doritos commercial, granted the scene is a comedic parody, but if you listen close during the entire exam, the heartbeat is playing in the background and there is no Doppler technology activated. This is also the case in many television scenes, depicting actual exams.

In real life, the heartrate sound does not play during the entire exam. Sonographers know the heart rate plays only when we turn on the Doppler technology, drop the gate into position and hit the update key. We listen for a few seconds, acquire a heartrate strip along the bottom and then turn the sound off.

For writers: If there is background noise, it comes from the cooling fan on the machine.

Next post: Tips #3-#5.

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Shannon Moore Redmon writes romance suspense stories to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

Medical Errors in Manuscripts: Criminal Minds and Bodies Hidden in Cement

Happy Halloween Redwood’s Fans! What fun festivities do you have planned for today? What will your kids be dressing up as to celebrate?

criminalmindsToday, I thought a fitting Halloween post would be an evaluation of a recent episode of Criminal Minds. I’ve been a fan of the show for years and am always intrigued with the cases and devious/suspenseful minds of the screenwriters.

A few episodes back, uber chipperPenelope was presenting a case about a woman who had been buried in a barrel full of cement. She stated the woman’s body was discovered using ultrasound and then proceeded to show a picture of the body that looked like a plain x-ray.

This is a common mistake among writers— not knowing the proper technology to site or the right radiology equipment to use. First of all, ultrasound couldn’t penetrate cement to find the body and the scan images would not resemble anything that you’re used to seeing.

What probably would be used is something that utilizes Ground-Penetrating Radar (something that can actually look through cement) and I found an extensive article that discusses its indications and use which I’ll definitely be referencing later.

Writers— keep in mind that not all forms of radiology are interchangeable with one another. If you’re discussing the use of a particular radiological study in your manuscript— make sure it’s the right one.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!