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UW testing kidney stone treatment that doesn’t need a hospital visit

Dr. Bailey says avoiding the more intense blasting treatment could also save hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims a year. (AP Photo/File)

Kidney stones.

Alright I said it.

Now that your initial wincing is over and your painful thoughts have left you, imagine if there was a way to deal with them that would prevent the traditional ultrasound blasting that usually ends up with a hospital stay.

The University of Washington is working on a new way to use ultrasound to move the kidney stones around so they would pass normally without requiring a hospital visit.

Dr. Michael Bailey, an engineer at the Applied Physics Lab, says he uses a directed shot of ultrasound, just slightly higher than what’s used on pregnant woman to move the stones to a spot in the kidney where they can pass normally.

“Put one probe, put it on the skin, find the kidney, see it on the image, push a button over here to turn on the ability to focus the ultra sound, and then push that stone,” describes Bailey.

Urologist Dr. Matthew Sorensen says traditional blasting can leave too much behind that can require additional treatment.

“It’s common for there to be leftover pieces or fragments or dust or gravel after we do a treatment for a stone,” says Sorensen. “Sometimes those clear on their own, but sometimes they don’t. And they can grow into additional stones that need additional treatment.”

Bailey says avoiding the more intense blasting treatment could also save hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims a year.

“These are shockwave treatments, surgeries on stones, that’s over 100,000 treatments in the U.S. each year that we would save. These get reimbursed at $5,000 to $10,000 from insurance health cost to health care so that’s $5 million in saving right there, if we could just expel these and save these people the treatment,” says Bailey.

Dr. Ryan Hsi says urologists would have to learn how to use the technology, but they’ve created a series of practice methods to make the transition easy.

“We’ve developed a number of models, including stones in waterbath that demonstrate the stone being pushed away from the device, to phantoms that could be pushed away from a maze, to more realistic models that involve a human torso with a kidney that’s realistic,” explains Hsi.

A 15-patient trial is now underway at the University of Washington to test the system.

Kidney stones affect one in ten people.

About the Author

Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan is a traffic reporter for KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He cares deeply about the amount of time you spend sitting in Seattle traffic. Email Chris at


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