Waiting for the results of medical tests can be agonizing. Patients often endure days, if not weeks, of uncertainty; and if physically injured, they risk making things worse before getting a diagnosis.
One local specialist is using a different tool in a new way to avoid patient stress and help save them money.
Marathon runner Earle McAauley is having pain in his right Achilles tendon. He's in to see Dr. Brett Kindle, a sports medicine specialist with the Andrews Institute.
Instead of ordering an M.R.I., Kindle used a high powered diagnostic ultrasound to take a look.
"It's an extension of your physical exam, to be able to look through the skin and at the tissues directly," Kindle explained.
Kindle said it is a medical trend to use ultrasound imaging over an M.R.I. for arm and leg joint pain.
He expanded, "Shoulder, elbow, hand, wrist, hip, knee, foot, ankle. Pain in any of those areas."
Kindle stressed ultrasound is not used to diagnose neck or back pain. X-rays and M.R.I.s are the proper imaging tools for those areas. Kindle stressed that if he suspects a patient with a limb injury needs a M.R.I., he orders one without hesitation.
However, ultrasound is often his first and best option in his practice.
Kindle said when he performs an ultrasound exam in his office, there is no wait for insurance authorization. He continued by saying they're much more cost-effective than an M.R.I., they offer better clarity and resolution and they show joint movement.
Kindle said it helps him clinically because patients are able to confirm pain points or tender areas while being examined.
"One of the biggest advantages of ultrasound, you get direct patient feedback during the image," said Kindle.
He continued by saying when patients can see injured structures themselves alongside a physician, it helps them understand what to do, and not to do, to prevent further injury.
"Immediate feedback is key in anything and it's awesome. There's no, 'We'll call you in three weeks and somebody will let you know," he said.
On this visit, McAuley gets his diagnosis within mere minutes. Kindle pointed out to him that the fibers of his right Achilles tendon have lost structural integrity and have weakened a bit.
"It's one of those things that can be very debilitating, especially in the setting of an endurance sport such as running a marathon," Kindle said.
McAuley's tendon isn't in danger of snapping, but he does need some physical therapy and Kindle asked him to try using a silicone heel lift in his shoe to take some pressure off of his injured area.
Kindle showed McAuley some simple stretching exercises to relieve pain he can start trying right away. Kindle said sonogram imaging for sports and joint injuries often results in earlier intervention than an M.R.I., that treatment can begin in the exam room.
For his part, McAuley is thrilled. "It's refreshing. Like OK, this is what we've got, this is what we need to do, this is how we proceed," Kindle asked McAuley to try his suggestions and come back for a follow-up visit within the next four to six weeks.