/ Stories

Mobile Ultrasound Program - On the move in the North


NH staff standing next to their vehicle posing with the mobile ultrasound machine
(From left) Lisette Vienneau, Regional Director Diagnostic Services; Ashley Dubrule, Regional Practice Lead for Cardiac and Ultrasound Services; Kendra D, Sonographer

I first heard about the mobile ultrasound concept in 2017 from Dr. Chui, a radiologist at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) and Ken Winnig, previous Director of Medical Imaging. The idea was to hire sonographers who loved to travel and had a passion to help deliver services to rural communities. The program would support patients by delivering ultrasound into their home communities, so they wouldn't have to travel.

Since 2017, Northern Health has struggled with sonographer retention and, of course, the pandemic. In 2021, I worked on the mobile ultrasound project and developed a business case, engaging with directors, health care administrators and chief operating officers to develop the project. In 2022, Northern Health leadership endorsed the project, and the concept became a reality.

The goal for 2022 was to have the mobile ultrasound team travelling the North in the spring. The first phase of the service was to start offering sonographer support to already established ultrasound departments by filling vacancies, covering leaves of absences, and reducing patient waitlists. Three sonographers were hired, initially travelling to Prince George, Fort Nelson, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Vanderhoof, and Dawson Creek.

Within the first two months of the service starting, two of the mobile sonographers took other positions within Northern Health. The team was left with only one sonographer, Kendra D, who lives in Burns Lake. For five months, Kendra travelled nonstop due to the shortage of sonographers and the positions not being filled. For most of this time, her work was based in Prince Rupert; she returned home to Burns Lake only on her days off. Burns Lake Hospital did not offer ultrasound services at the time.

In November 2022, Burns Lake was able to offer ultrasound services. The addition of this service to Burns Lake has created major positive impacts for patients, serving 290 patients in the first four months. That meant 290 patients who did not have to leave their community to receive ultrasounds. Kendra now shares her work between her hometown of Burns Lake and other communities that need service support, and she enjoys the resulting work-life balance. Since 2022, Burns Lake has kept 85% of the communities’ patients at home to receive their ultrasounds. That is over 916 patients in just one year.

“I have experienced so much thankfulness from patients and staffing in the communities that I've travelled to for work,” says Kendra. “I have had countless patients say how grateful they are that ultrasound is now offered in their community, especially those who have a hard time travelling to appointments out of town. Doctors have appreciated the ability to have quick ultrasounds done onsite when patients come through ER.”

"Recently I scanned a patient who is pregnant with her seventh child," she adds, "and this was the first time she didn't have to travel over two hours for her ultrasound. It has also been great for obstetrics patients who need monthly ultrasounds, as it has cut down on travel time and expenses for them. I would say overall the general population is surprised that we are able to offer ultrasound services in their community.”

In 2023, two new sonographers joined the team. Currently the mobile team has a full complement of three full-time sonographers, one fleet vehicle, and three portable ultrasound machines. This allows the team to travel by car or plane to any remote site, with the machine in hand, serving patients in their communities.

Since it began in 2022, the mobile ultrasound program has supported eight Northern Health sites, completed over 5,700 exams, and provided more than 750 days of site support.

The success of this program would not be possible without the constant support from the Northern Health team including leadership, managers, the Spirit of the North Foundation, and our dedicated sonographers. Thank you for being a great collaborative team and meeting the needs of our Northern residents!