The first experimental endoscopies were performed on sword swallowers – those who had the skills to allow long tubes down their throats without causing harm to their bodies. Today, no such patient skills are required to undergo an endoscopy, thankfully. And with advancements in imaging technology, patients can wake up to view images directly from their digestive tract, lungs, urinary tract or uterus even immediately after their procedure.
Millions of patients undergo endoscopic procedures every year in the U.S. This minimally invasive option for treatment that sends long, thin tubes into hollow cavities of the body for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Several hundred years since those early sword swallowing days, those tubes can even facilitate ultrasound imaging.
Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) has become increasingly attractive to patients and physicians. For gastroenterologists, these procedures allow physicians to diagnose severe digestive illnesses more efficiently. GI EUS is used to diagnose and evaluate a variety of conditions, including:
- Mediastinal diseases
- Pancreatic cysts and masses
- Anorectal pathology
- Subepithelial gastrointestinal lesions
Dr. Stephen Steinberg, co-founder and president of EndoSound, describes EUS as an incremental skill, meaning endoscopists don’t need to have mastered every advanced technique of the procedure in order to offer the benefits of EUS to their patients. There is still much to be gained from a “basic” EUS procedure, that could save patients time and money from having to travel to other medical centers for the kind of attention they need.
For example, EUS can provide endoscopists with more information than other imaging tests and evaluate lumps or lesions previously detected in other endoscopies. The ultrasound images can inform the origin of abnormalities and help inform treatment decisions. The procedure has proven successful in helping physicians diagnose diseases that couldn’t be confirmed with other testing options.
“While exciting diagnostic and therapeutic advances hold our attention, it may be important to highlight the one trend that could be the most important for patients – the increasing integration of EUS into general gastrointestinal (GI) training and practice,” wrote Anand V Sahai, in his 2018 Endoscopic Ultrasound journal article, “EUS is Trending!”
But, since EUS competency requires additional training, “it remains limited to a selected group of physicians willing to make this extra sacrifice, to allow them to include EUS in their GI practice,” according to Sahai’s article.
Challenges remain all over the world in establishing EUS in routine practice. These include the required physician competency and upfront equipment costs, specialized endoscopes, and accessories for EUS-guided fine-needle aspiration or EUS-guided fine-needle biopsy.
GI endoscopists need to complete close to 400 EUS procedures addressing multiple areas (mucosal tumors, pancreaticobiliary, etc.) over the course of 24 months to have full competency in EUS, according to guidance from the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE). Training programs, even post-fellowship opportunities through the ASGE, are available and often at capacity. U.S. physicians may also find training opportunities abroad, where there are fewer restrictions for visiting endoscopists to perform procedures.
The benefits to seeking that additional training go beyond those for the patient and can outweigh time and revenue lost during training and acquiring necessary tools. If patients can undergo EUS at their local hospital or ambulatory surgery center (ASC), they can benefit from an advanced procedure that can assess damage to the digestive system, assist in diagnosing cancers, or potentially receive therapeutic procedures like cyst drainage, all without the added stress of travel to large medical centers were EUS is typically performed. For those that can receive EUS in an ASC, they avoid a potentially unnecessary hospital stay and may find more affordable care.
So, even for well-established GI endoscopists several years removed from fellowship training, pursuing mid-career training in EUS could open more possibilities for treatment and care in facilities and practice. There are initial steps, including time needed for training and upfront equipment costs, but the rewards for quality of care provided to patients just may be worth it in expanding a growing practice.