Is Mobile Ultrasound the New Stethoscope?

When most of us think about ultrasound we envision a large machine with multiple wires and cords. We also typically associate it with a developing fetus. However, only about 20% of all ultrasound is used for this purpose. 

Ultrasound is used in many scenarios today. It is useful for quick scans at the point of care, as well as guiding procedures like targeted injections. It can be used for studying a person's abdominal and pelvic organs, muscles and tendons, or even heart and blood vessels. Ultrasound can detect anything from gall stones to cancer. 

Ultrasound has many benefits as well.  Soft tissue injuries and many diseases are better viewed through ultrasound, rather than an X-ray. Ultrasounds can also do a better job at distinguishing a solid mass from a fluid-filled growth. Ultrasound is quickly become the go-to tool for examination because it provides a clear live glimpse into the human body without any radiation. And because it enables physicians to quickly find the cause of an ER visit, it ultimately enhances a patients’ impression of care.

Many procedures are safer and more comfortable with mobile ultrasound. EMS or medical professionals in remote areas can use ultrasound to easily gauge triage situations and conduct pre-hospital assessments to better enable physicians to properly prep to treat patients. 

Despite all these benefits, hefty costs and logistical challenges have made it difficult for small clinics and some hospitals to acquire ultrasound machines. But thanks to emerging technology, ultrasound is making its way into various points of care, and now into the palm of our hands. 

Vancouver based Clarius has revolutionized mobile ultrasound by developing a hand-held ultrasound scanner that displays images on a smartphone using an iOS or Android app.

If the concept and technology of something hand-held replacing a large machine seems incredible, it is. Clarius has essentially taken an entire ultrasound machine and put it onto one single chip and inserted it into a scanner. The sophisticated technology is the culmination of extreme innovation and ultrasound experience. The device, cleared last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use by medical professionals, is a first of its kind. 

Heralded as the world’s first point-and-shoot ultrasound scanner with excellent imaging, it has also been engineered to optimize images automatically for clinicians. This is good news because in many scenarios, medical professionals don’t have time to fiddle around with complex buttons. 

As for other features that set the scanner apart from similar options, Clarius delivers superior image quality, weighs about a pound and, can fit in a pocket. It also has a rugged shell making it drop resistant, and fully water submersible. Customers also don’t need to worry about security. The latest encryption methods are used. It also complies with HIPAA regulations. Above all, Clarius is dispelling an important myth; that only large expensive ultrasound machines can deliver superior image quality.

The price of a scanner is $225/month with financing. A full color model is expected for release by the end of summer 2017. Compare this to the cost of a traditional ultrasound machine, which begins at around $25,000 and goes as high as $250,000. 

The emergence of mobile ultrasound scanners is removing the barrier of price and complexity for medical professionals such as general practitioners to use ultrasound to improve patient care.  Ultrasound training institutions across the United States are offering courses for medical practitioners to learn basic ultrasound skills to quickly understand when a patient needs to be referred for more treatment and to guide injections.  Ultrasound training is also offered at annual conferences for most medical professionals at the front lines of patient care.    

The future will see all medical technology get smarter, smaller, mobile, more accessible, and more affordable. In the same way that smart phones revolutionized our personal lives, mobile medical devices like ultrasound, are impacting healthcare.  As technology continues to advance, more and more healthcare devices will be reliant on mobile/smart technology to reduce costs and increase accessibility at all points of care. This is just another good example of the power of our smart devices.