How handheld ultrasound can achieve mainstream adoption

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How handheld ultrasound can achieve mainstream adoption

December 14, 2020
From the November 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

AI-powered solutions for cardiac ultrasound are the most progressed, especially for image analysis, and closest to a comprehensive AI solution. For example, DiA Imaging Analysis markets a suite of tools including ejection fraction, strain and segmental wall motion analysis, but even in cardiac ultrasound the AI “toolbox” is far from complete. Ultimately, it could take several years before there are comprehensive AI solutions available for most routine exams. To bridge the gap until that time, novice users can be connected to ultrasound experts by teleultrasound platforms.

Teleultrasound — the bridge over troubled waters
Teleultrasound platforms can be used for every exam type and procedure, and in recent years platforms have been developed specifically for point of care ultrasound. These platforms allow for collaboration with specialist clinicians, which is particularly useful for novice users unfamiliar with ultrasound. It allows novice users to obtain ultrasound expertise, potentially from anywhere in the world, in real time, and the collaborator can interact with the novice user to assist with image capture to obtain quality images, and with the subsequent image interpretation. Teleultrasound is becoming increasingly important due to the lack of trained ultrasound users in some rural areas and developing countries.

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Table 3 - Examples of handheld ultrasound teleultrasound platforms

The COVID-19 outbreak has been a recent driver, with teleultrasound platforms more in demand to connect clinicians in frontline care, many of whom are novice ultrasound users, with experts. The combination of teleultrasound and AI will enable ultrasound to not only be more portable, but to also be carried out more remotely.

The Signify View
Ultrasound was once touted as replacing the stethoscope; such was its promise of widespread use. While this has not happened, the prospect of it happening in the coming years is now more realistic. The ultrasound skills shortage is the last remaining barrier preventing handheld ultrasound from obtaining mainstream use in point of care and primary care settings. AI and teleultrasound platforms can help overcome this barrier and both trends are already underway and gaining pace. However, the AI solutions currently available have relatively limited clinical utility, and what is needed, and is absent at present, are comprehensive AI solutions. There has been a similar trend in other imaging modalities like CT and X-ray, where AI was initially applied to specific use cases, such as cancer detection. However, there are now AI packages for chest X-rays, for example, that can detect tens of radiological findings. It is this jump that is needed for ultrasound AI to take handheld ultrasound mainstream, but this will take time as new algorithms will need validation and FDA approval before going to market. Teleultrasound platforms are being used in the interim until these comprehensive AI solutions are ready. However even after this occurs, teleultrasound will still play a role in taking handhelds mainstream. They will remain a way of connecting users and will offer remote collaboration which AI alone cannot provide.

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