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Will pregnant patients administer their own ultrasound exams in the future?

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | July 12, 2021
Women's Health
From the July 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

He encounters many common fetal illnesses and abnormalities at his practice, so he used this technology to remotely consult with sonographers and patients in those rural areas in real-time.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has conducted more than 5,500 telemedicine visits.

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Butterfly iQ, which also connects to a smartphone, has brought ultrasound to the developing world due to its portability and low cost.

This technology costs $1,999 per probe compared to conventional ultrasound machines that can cost upwards of $250,000, according to a 2016 study published in Tropical Medicine & International Health.

For the first time, pregnant patients in Nairobi, Kenya are able to receive ultrasound exams. A healthcare startup, Access Afya, set up micro-clinics equipped with Butterfly iQ in this underserved area.

Butterfly Network also offers a telemedicine solution, like Philips’ Reacts. The company rolled out a new version of its TeleGuidance ultrasound-based telemedicine platform in May of last year.

It features augmented reality guidance tools that allow trained clinicians to conduct ultrasound exams remotely.

ECRI’s Furman agrees that this technology is innovative and exciting, but he cautions that research is needed to prove its efficacy.

“When you just think of healthcare delivery transforming, we really want to be mindful that as we transform and change we don't want to add in patient safety concerns and harm,” he said.

The quest for a simpler exam
“If we get to this state where there's more home-based care, the process has to be simplified,” said Furman. “The more simplified it is, then the more assurance you can have that you're going to be capturing the right data in the right time frame.”

But in the meantime, physicians wouldn’t mind a more simplified exam either. OB/GYN physicians have a lot on their plates as they juggle more patients and more expectations with less staff.

“Clinicians have been moving toward gynecology — often instead of obstetrics — as a practice of choice,” said Barbara Del Prince, director of product and clinical management for women’s health ultrasound at GE Healthcare. “They don’t have to come out at 3 a.m.to deliver a baby and their patients are predictable.”

In response to this trend, GE launched its Voluson SWIFT ultrasound system in September 2020. The system comes with built-in artificial intelligence algorithms for auto-recognition.

It was built with in-put from 200 women’s health practitioners globally. It features a large touch panel and there are options to save favorites and to hide features or functions that the user doesn’t want.

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