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Ultrasound: The stethoscope of modern imaging

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | May 29, 2012
From the May 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

“On one hand, a new system might feature the portability a provider seeks, but may not perform quite at the level required by every day, high volume use,” says Christopher McHan, president of Neusoft Medical Systems USA.

Still, systems are getting smaller and smaller. In 2007, Siemens Healthcare released the first pocket-sized ultrasound product – the ACUSON P10. More recently, GE Healthcare’s Vscan and Mobisante’s new smartphone ultrasound product – the MobiUS system -- has re-ignited the debate about pocket ultrasound systems, according to Holloway.

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“The smaller machines are getting better all the time,” says Keith Rubenstein, managing partner, VP of sales and marketing, MedPro Imaging, a company that sells new and refurbished ultrasound systems and transducers. “You can pack so much technology into a smaller package. I bet the Philips CX50 could go up against any of the large 400 plus pound systems and give it a run for its money at a fraction of the price.”

Compatible with Toshiba TG01 smartphones, the MobiUS system costs $7,495. Meanwhile, GE’s Vscan, another handheld smartphone ultrasound device, has a ticket price of $7,900. These systems are shaking things up in the industry, as most ultrasound systems can run anywhere from $125,000 to $250,000. But the competition doesn’t seem to be worried.

“Our competitors have tried pocket-sized ultrasound, but they are not doing well,” says Elhihi. “The vision is that pocket-sized ultrasound will eventually replace the stethoscope, but with the current pricing structure, that will be difficult.”

The cost of a hand-held ultrasound machine is still considered a bit steep for the average family practice physician or office-based physician. To counteract this, OEMs are giving away the hand-held systems with other system sales, but they are still not being embraced by a high enough percentage of the target market.

Transmitting images via cellular networks, like the Mobisante systems, makes teleradiology consulting in remote locations possible where specialists are sparse.

“It is clear that the advance of teleradiology, imaging sharing and health care IT integration is a compelling argument that [indicates] future ultrasound devices will need to be compact, mobile and flexible; and perhaps combine cellular, wireless or Bluetooth connectivity,” says Holloway. “The challenge now for suppliers is to bring these features together in one adaptable platform.”

That platform is likely to be a “hybrid” tablet system, as opposed to a smartphone, due to the logistics, user-interface and screen size, which prevent all but basic imaging, Holloway explains.

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