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Sonographer regulation in Australia

National regulation of Australian sonographers

Sonographers are the 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.

The issue 

Sonographers are currently not regulated under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), which regulates other health professions such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and the other diagnostic imaging professions. 

Because there is no national regulation of sonographers:

  • Patients’ health and safety at risk. Where a sonographer fails to produce quality images or identify pathologies, there is 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 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 solution

There is whole-of-industry support to regulate sonographers under AHPRA by including them to the list of professions under the Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia (MRPBA).

This is a cost-effective system change which brings all diagnostic imaging professions together and assures patient safety. It also reduces the unnecessary and inefficient administrative mechanisms currently in place. Particularly as approximately 25% of sonographers also hold registration with the MRPBA as a medical radiation practitioner.

Further information

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. 

For more information on this work please email Sonographer_Regulation@sonographers.org

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