When an unprotected ultrasound probe falls onto a hard concrete floor, more than the transducer crystal is banged up. The cost of repair or replacement may break your service budget. There are simple steps you can take to snap the cycle of operator abuse, and several options for probe repair and replacement. Deep pile carpeting is just one idea.

imageThe ultrasound probe, or transducer, is the most crucial part of the instrument, and the most expensive. Assembled with slender wires and delicate crystals, the exposed probe is constantly at risk of destruction.

High-quality diagnostic ultrasound images start at the transducer. “This component of the ultrasound system is without question the most important contributor to image formation in this modality,” says Tom Neal, president of Western Diagnostics in Paso Robles, Calif. “With the onset of more sophisticated image and processing electronics, it has become even more important that the front end analog signal as generated and acquired by the ultrasound transducer be acoustically sensitive and free of artifact.”

But of all of the components of the ultrasound unit, the probe is the most susceptible to physical damage. Probes may be dropped, subjected to overaggressive cleaning and their cables are often stepped on or run over. That gets expensive. Bill Phillips, executive vice president and chief technical officer of Sonora Medical Systems in Longmont, Colo. estimates that an ultrasound system with a ten-year operational life span may require up to five probe replacements, at a cost of approximately $10,000 each if bought from the system’s manufacturer.

Types of Damage
“We see a lot of transport damage,” observes Lisa Provencher, biomedical coordinator at Navix Diagnostics in Taunton, Mass. “Missing crystals, tears in cords, cracked casing, missing elements — all occur when people drop probes.”

The type of damage incurred by probes depends on their design.

“It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer,” notes Jim Howe, probe manager at Davis Ultraserv, Inc., in Brentwood, Calif. “On ATL probes, the most common failure is wires pulled loose from the PC board. We also see broken or cracked strings [of wire], where the cable comes out from the probe body. Dropped probes often have their housing cracked. The internal transducer survives the fall, but it presents a potential shock hazard to patients.”

“There are three major ‘injuries’ that can occur in transducers,” says Phillips. “The plastic case around the acoustic lens becomes cracked, usually as a result of what we call ‘rapid deceleration trauma’ — somebody drops it. The lens can delaminate from the array, which causes an air bubble between the lens and the array. The ultrasound can’t conduct through their air bubble. All you see on the screen is a big black area of drop-out. Damage to the strain or bend relief on the cable where the entry point to the transducer comes out is another ‘injury.’”

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