Sonographer regulation in Australia
National regulation of Australian sonographers
Sonographers are highly skilled health professionals that perform the majority of comprehensive medical diagnostic ultrasound examinations.
Medical diagnostic ultrasound is ‘operator-dependent’. Most people are unaware that the outcome of an ultrasound examination is reliant on the competence and expertise of the sonographer, not the technology.
Sonographers work autonomously to capture medical images reporting their findings to a radiologist or other medical specialist who interprets the examination. If a sonographer doesn’t produce quality images or identify pathologies, the report prepared by the radiologist or sonologist is likely to be inaccurate.
Sonographers are currently not regulated under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), which regulates other health professions such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and other diagnostic imaging professions.
Because there is no national regulation of sonographers:
- Patients’ health and safety are at risk. Where a sonographer fails to produce quality images or identify pathologies, there are currently no enforceable standards of practice to measure the quality of ultrasound examinations provided by Australian sonographers.
- Other patient safety and quality controls, such as the recency of practice requirements, do not currently exist for sonographers.
- Complaints handling for sonographers is fragmented and ineffectual. There is a growing list of situations where complaints are raised against a sonographer, the complaint is insufficiently investigated, and the situation becomes a criminal prosecution to be resolved.
The most effective and practical solution is for sonographers to be regulated under AHPRA, through the Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia (MRPBA), where the other diagnostic imaging professions are already regulated.
A quarter of sonographers are dual qualified as medical radiation practitioners and are already registered with the MRPBA.
The recommendation for sonographers to be regulated under AHPRA has the support of the public, the profession, the wider diagnostic imaging industry and other health stakeholders.
For several years now, the Working Group for Sonographer Regulation – consisting of the ASA, ASUM, ASAR and a senior sonographer representative – has been developing a submission that responds to established criteria and provides evidence of the need for this change.
The ASA has also undertaken extensive consultation with industry stakeholders and various levels of government across Australia.
The submission is now finalised, and addresses each of the six criteria specified in the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC) information on regulatory assessment criteria and the process for adding new professions to the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for the health professions.
To make this happen, we require the agreement of Australia’s Health Ministers. The steps involved are detailed in the Process for Regulation document.
The ASA has prepared the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to support the discussion of the need for national sonographer regulation and what this would mean for the profession and broader industry.
ASA CEO, Jodie Long, provides an update on Australian sonographers becoming regulated under the National Regulation and Accreditation Scheme in the following CPD Podcast episode.