Are You Sonogenic?

Most of us who do ultrasound commonly use the disclaimer that “the study is suboptimal because of the patient’s body habitus” (we stay away from the word “limited” because this word has specific billing implications). This phrase conveys to the referring physician that we are not getting the pictures we hope to get because of something we can’t control, namely the patient’s size. No matter how we tweak the transducer frequency, adjust the time-gain compensation curve, or simply press harder we cannot achieve optimal image quality.Lev

Sometimes, however, we are either pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised. A thin individual may have soft tissues that are difficult to penetrate, leading to an image of suboptimal quality.

Conversely, a patient with high body mass index may turn out to be a breeze to scan. Clearly, there is something more than simply patient size that is at work here. After all, echoes on ultrasound are created at interfaces between tissues that differ in acoustic impedance. A larger patient with relatively homogenous subcutaneous tissues (fewer interfaces) may reflect and scatter the beam less than a patient whose tissues are composed of a more varied mixture of fat, fibrosis, and/or edema (more interfaces).

When people consistently look great in photographs, we call them “photogenic”. The implication of this word is that somehow the camera loves the subject so much that their still image “overachieves” compared to the expected output. When you think about it, that may be a subtle insult, but it is usually used as a compliment. Conversely, a person we find attractive may, for reasons that are unclear, not be at their best in photographs.

In light of the above, I would like to coin a new word, “sonogenic”. A sonogenic person is one who transmits sound so well that their ultrasound images consistently exceed expectations. A patient that frustrates us because their images are of lower quality than expected would be characterized as “non-sonogenic”.

Using this word can potentially facilitate communication. The sonographer could say to the reading physician: “Sorry for these images; the patient wasn’t sonogenic”. The physician’s reports can become shorter: “The study is suboptimal because of patient’s body habitus” becomes “the patient is not sonogenic”. The noun form would be “sonogenicity” (yes, “photogenicity is a word”). A simple grading system may even become part of the ultrasound report, i.e., sonogenicity is above average, average, or below average.

In conclusion, I hereby propose that the word “sonogenic” be added to the formal ultrasound lexicon. What do you think?


Would you use the term sonogenic? Do you have any other suggested new terms that could better describe an aspect of an ultrasound examination? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.



Levon N. Nazarian, MD, FAIUM, FACR, is Professor and Vice Chairman for Education in the Department of Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.