Non invasive, sedation free mobile imaging technology
The demand for Infrared imaging services has increased significantly in recent years leaving practices with the decision to either provide imaging themselves or outsource an independent consultant.
Vet-IR trains vets to deliver Infrared imaging along with providing a quality controlled consultancy option that practices can rely upon. Consultancy solutions provide vets with a stepping stone to expand thermology experience before committing to technology investment and running imaging inhouse.
Imaging services can be delivered to patients at the practice or a nominated imaging location via the network of experienced Vet-IR consultants.
FIELDS OF WORK
Over the course of the next few months we will be launching new web zones on specific species.
CLINICAL STANDARD IMAGING
Like other forms of diagnostic imaging, the technique requires standardisation to produce accurate and repeatable results. Historically this has not been executed well industry wide and has held the technology back. Poor protocols, low spec technology and limited interpretation knowledge have reduced its clinical usage.
Our network of imaging consultants and veterinary surgeons are trained to practice imaging collection and interpretation under strict protocols, forming a quality controlled system that delivers the veterinary industry with a clinical standard approach to physiological imaging.
PROCESSES AND STANDARDISATION
Appropriate case selection is the first step of the process and important to the success of IR imaging when used to assist diagnosis. Like all diagnostic modalities IR Imaging has limitations. Understanding these limitations ensures that the technology can answer the questions being put to it, reducing the likelihood of false positives/ negatives. Vet-IR’s consultants will help guide clinicians with case selection and ensure full clinical histories are taken before proceeding with imaging.
During the appointment a number of protocols/ environmental variables will be checked and taken into consideration to ensure utmost accuracy when collecting imaging data. Patients will need to be prepared and monitored throughout the imaging session. Our pre-scan patient preparation advice helps clients to prepare their animal for the appointment.
Dynamic testing will be performed in the majority of equine and small animal cases which includes 10 minutes of controlled exercise. This enables us to run a comparative studies pre and post exercise, documenting the patient’s physiological response. This process provides invaluable data, helping to better localise pathology and rule out baseline artifacts.
Once data is collected, processing begins. Adaption of images is completed by trained consultants to ensure they are presented for veterinary interpretation in the appropriate manner. Full clinical history and data for the report is then collated and sent for analysis. The adoption process is critical to analysis, ensuring images are not overexposed/ underexposed. Specific thermal range and span parameters ensures the data is comparative across the set, for each patient. This enables more efficient veterinary thermologist interpretation.
Understanding how the results assist investigation or diagnosis is a vital part of the imaging process, helping to refine interpretation and technology development. Vet-IR aims to correlate a high percentage of data via our bespoke interpretation system and use all findings to further the understanding and utilisation of this technological application worldwide. For more information visit the Vet-IR case study page.
INTERPRETATION & ANALYSIS
Infrared imaging reports should be provided by a veterinary surgeon with thermologist training and experience. Infrared imaging is a test of function; it therefore requires specific knowledge in physiology and neurology.
Vet-IR has an experienced Veterinary team that provides consultancy in this field.
Species Interpretation & Analysis (S.I.A) is a bespoke international thermology system, built by Vet-IR that accepts images from our consultancy network and partnered veterinary practices. S.I.A collates imaging data and correlations to develop research and expand technology applications. Thermologist training for veterinary surgeons will soon be available.
Thermology Interpreation with Dr Ciara Murphy
My journey in thermology began in humans and before I became a vet. I trained as a thermologist for a chiropractor who routinely used thermography for breast health at his clinic.
After qualifying in veterinary medicine, I had an opportunity to learn to interpret veterinary thermal images and become a veterinary thermologist. I jumped at the chance, already knowing what a great technology this is.
Thermography is a rapidly evolving, non-invasive diagnostic tool in veterinary medicine, which compliments other imaging modalities such as ultrasound and radiography. It can help to provide a pathway of clinical investigation that may not otherwise have been considered. Thermography looks at the constant infrared radiation emissions coming from the body surface (at the level of the first 5mm of skin). The resulting image is essentially a map of superficial circulation and the heat that blood flow is creating or not creating (if there is reduced vascular supply). So we are provided with an immediate assessment of inflammatory, vascular and soft-tissue related conditions.
Interpretation is based upon differences in emissivity on contralateral sides of the animal. A normal animal will have symmetrical vascular supply on each side of the body. Thermal asymmetries manifest as temperature differentials which can then be clinically correlated by physical examination or other imaging protocols. It is extremely valuable in localising those low-grade musculoskeletal dysfunctions and evaluation of poor performance cases. It can also dynamically show changes in resting physiology compared to after exercise and can be used to monitor response to therapy as well as baseline health status.
Interpretation of thermography images is largely based on pattern recognition, but there is a lot more to it than simply looking for “hot-spots”. An understanding of the physiology of circulation as it relates to temperature regulation of the body, inflammatory processes, and the autonomic nervous system is required. Painful areas may appear hyperthermic or hypothermic depending on the underlying cause. Acute injuries will generally appear as focal regions of hyperthermia. Chronic conditions and some neurological disease can however manifest as diffuse or focal regions of hypothermia due to the effects of the sympathetic nervous system on vascular constriction.
Over the years, repeat patterns have become evident to me. For example a particular group of repeatable thermal abnormalities are observed in cases of sacroiliac disease in horses.
As with every imaging technology, there are limitations associated with thermography. Strict protocols are required with to regard ambient temperature in the imaging environment and background interference from sunlight and other animals/people. Animals should have time to acclimatise to the imaging environment and short hair is preferred to reduce the risk of false negative results. However, I do recall a case of shoulder OCD in a young and very hairy St. Bernard which was nicely detected by the camera! Clip lines observed on horses also provide an extra challenge in that they create large temperature differentials that affect interpretation of the physiological thermal pattern.
A successful thermal study is also reliant on the experience of the thermologists who strictly follows imaging protocols with respect to anatomical region, framing of views etc. If contralateral images are not directly comparable, then false positive or false negative interpretations can result.
Studies must also be repeatable in cases of monitoring recovery and response to therapy.
I hope that this has been a useful insight for any professional thinking of diving into thermology. I am very grateful to have been introduced to this technology as I have learned so much and it has greatly enhanced my own veterinary practice with the various cases I have referred for thermal imaging.
I have really been very lucky to work with the team behind Vet-IR for ten years now and I’m very excited for what the future holds.
SERVICE IN PRACTICE
Why offer this service?
- Reviewing the entire patient in a non invasive capacity before deciding on the next course of action has many benefits.
- It is a commercially viable diagnostic modality to add to the practice’s toolbox, increasing lameness investigation, treatment monitoring and uptake of early stage detection strategies.
- Clients would like to see this technology provided by their vet.
Utilising the technology with equine vet Lucinda Ticehurst
“Thermography provides another link in the chain of diagnostics”
Lucinda Ticehurst BSc BVMed Sci (Hons) BVM BVS MRCVS Equine Veterinary Surgeon at Averley Equine an ambulatory veterinary service covering Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire.
Lucinda graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Nottingham University in 2014. She was involved in a number of diverse equine cases during her training where she spent time in Australia, Argentina, Africa and India. During this time, she undertook charity work with animals affected by extreme poverty to top class polo pony medical and surgical management and reproduction. In a personal and professional capacity, Lucinda has a keen interest in orthopaedics as well as the performance horse with the aim to optimise performance and longevity, as well as preventative care. She works with all types of horses including American Miniatures, hairy cobs and elite eventers.
Lucinda has been using infrared imaging for her own horses and those of her clients since 2016. She currently uses Vet-IR services and prior to that SyncThermology.
Thermography doesn’t yet feature extensively (if at all) in mainstream veterinary education so peoples’ first experience of the technology vary. How did you first find out about it?
I learnt about thermography several years ago when I came across a basic heat detecting camera used by some horse trainers and dealers. I could see the potential but also all the flaws associated with poor quality scanners, insufficient software, poor protocols and non-specialist interpreters. Any technology that could help a horse in a non-invasive manner appeals to me. I believe multiple different modalities are often synergistic in identifying pathology in a horse and ultimately aiding treatment and recovery.
Vet-IR’s mission is to make infrared imaging an integrated part of the veterinarian’s diagnostic toolkit through education and providing access to a clinical standard imaging service. How did you first cross paths with Vet-IR?
Several years after my first encounter with thermography I came across Julia La Garde, Imaging Consultant for Vet-IR (when I first met her, SyncThermology). She was based at a clients yard so came up in discussion. It turns out that we have a mutual friend that Jules used to work with who is an expert human physiotherapist. I also had Jules highly recommended to me as a classical dressage and biomechanics coach.
From the beginning Jules’ extensive knowledge and faith in the technology has been evident. It’s invaluable to be presented with case studies, science, advanced software, caring, efficient and experienced technicians and specialist veterinary interpreters along with acknowledgement of when it can be beneficial alongside the limitations.
Veterinary interpretation is the cornerstone of Vet-IR’s imaging service. What did you think about your first imaging experience and report?
I was very impressed at the speed of the report, the clarity in the layout and how comprehensive it was. The whole process was really facilitated. Clear protocols that are easily followed then patient and thorough technicians resulting in calm and happy horses and owners. There was positive feedback immediately from the client.
How did your relationship with Vet-IR develop to the point that you now refer regularly?
Via strong communication. We had a meeting with SyncThermology at work, everything was explained very well. I then invited the company to speak at one of our client evenings. Once people were more educated about the clinical standard of thermology available we had requests for its use in appropriate cases and realistic expectations.
Like any imaging modality, case selection is key. How do you select cases to put forward for infrared imaging?
I use thermography in a variety of cases. I try and ask the technology a question but I also find it useful for generic symptoms too, or possible behavioural cases. I want to try and eliminate certain pathology as well as look for localising a problematic area.
I use it when suspecting nerve dysfunction, neck pain (what I think is an under diagnosed area), SI disease, temporo mandibular pain, mild dorsal spinal process impingement… When working with the advanced performance horse I want to know about areas of concern and potential problems to aid future and current management and look to prevent major structural changes before they are irreversible.
At times thermographic imaging is used as a last resort when all other diagnostics have been inconclusive or money has run out. At what point do you use it in the lameness or poor performance investigation timeline?
I like to use thermography sooner rather than later. A lot of other diagnostics carry risk (excessive radiation with survey radiographs), a big price tag (MRI) and significant stress to the horse (nuclear scintigraphy). I do a comprehensive physical exam and use that alongside thermography to help plan onwards. This means I can use an appropriate imaging modality relevant to the specific area that has been localised as having activity. In other cases I use it to eliminate (or not) areas of high suspicion, for example, the sacroiliac. I make a case by case judgement based on the individual and the relevant stakeholders.
How do you use the thermographic report to help inform the next step of your investigation?
Once I’ve received the report I have a thorough discussion with the owner and rider. The report greatly facilitates this as it’s segmented into anatomical areas with a ‘Discussion of findings’ at the end. Within the discussion the specialist interpreting vet highlights the finding that they would consider most relevant and significant and they order the other findings based on importance thereafter.
I often find the scan results correspond with my suspicions, however I have also discovered areas of interest that I may have dismissed without using thermography. I also find it very useful as a future management tool and note what areas may have instability or a potentially progressive issue that is currently subclinical but will need investigating at some point. Therefore, even a scan that doesn’t provide immediate answers or direction to the current questions may well still be very useful as time passes.
The applications for thermographic imaging aren’t limited to assisting with lameness or poor performance investigations. Do you use thermography for ongoing monitoring or monitoring rehabilitation?
I’ve had limited use of thermography to monitor and aid rehabilitation of cases. This is a real shame because I think it would be really beneficial long-term. This is an owner driven limitation. They don’t consider quite how dynamic all the processes involved in the physiology of the horse are. Changes over time can be a lot more helpful than a snapshot in time in forming the full clinical picture.
What is the biggest benefit of having thermography in your diagnostic toolkit and the reason that you continue to use it?
Thermography provides another link in the chain of diagnostics. A real plus point to me is that it does not cause stress to the horse. It can be done in their home or a relaxing environment, no drugs are needed, no discomfort, no risk to personnel etc. It is very helpful in localising areas of activity as a screening tool.
Does offering thermography improve your client relationships?
I pride myself on offering an informed choice – the gold standard option and the other options, along with their pros and cons, be it financial, suitable for their individual horse etc.
I think my clients like the fact that I am all about the horse. I understand their specific individual character, that they have a certain role and they’re often fundamental in family life. I have very good trust from all my clients and they know whatever advice I give would never be biased to financial gain – (a pet hate of mine is any vet that acts differently.) I am a horse owning vet so I know how bills can mount up. In fact I probably warn about money too much!
The worst thing that could happen with thermography is a minor loss of money. The best thing is that we could crack the clinical dilemma and get their horse back on the road.
Vet-IR’s network of imaging consultants that can provide your practice with the clinical standard service described above. All consultants are quality controlled via Vet-IR and attend 16 hours of minimum CPD per annum.
We can organise for your local Vet-IR consultant to visit the practice, demonstrate the technology and discuss service.delivery.
CLINICAL CASE STUDIES
Vet-IR correlates a high numbers of studies with additional diagnostic modalities, clinical examination/ investigation. We are continuously adding to an archive of data that we pool into the Species-IR Atlas Project.
Thank you to all the clinicians and animal owners that consent to sharing this data, improving technology applications and contributing to the improvement of animal welfare standards.
“Dedicated to the advancement of animal thermology across all animal species, setting industry standards in physiological imaging and evolving clinical applications via research and education. “