As medical care continues to move towards the preventative and personalised, we’re seeing treatments move toward the patient and point of care (PoC) on an ever more regular basis.
Within imaging, patients have long had to travel through a hospital to a dedicated room containing a large, intimidating machine to have essential scans. However, the advent of PoC imaging has changed all that.
In this article, I’m going to highlight the benefits of PoC ultrasound devices and highlight some companies along the way that are developing some of the most interesting products in the market.
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this too, so once you’ve seen what I think, feel free to join in the conversation in the comments!
It’s traditionally been quite an undertaking to have an ultrasound scan performed. An individual scan costs around $250 and is usually carried out with a large machine in a dedicated room or department in a hospital.
PoC scanners are pocket sized, wireless and easy to use. They also often have a one-size-fits-all transducer which enables them to perform different types or depths of scan quickly.
One company boasting this capability is Clarius. The developers behind Clarius have serious imaging credentials. They were behind both the first PC-based platform for ultrasound and created the first touch screen ultrasound system. Therefore it’s no surprise that their system already has more than 12,000 users worldwide.
The ease of use and portability also means that the physician can perform an ultrasound in an initial assessment – eliminating the need to book an appointment for a separate, often costly, scan.
Another PoC company making waves, if you'll excuse the pun, is US based Butterfly IQ.
They claim to be dedicated to ‘democratizing ultrasound’ - making medical imaging accessible to everyone on the planet. Being global is a key part of their appeal. They demonstrate the real humanitarian impact that their technology can have.
It’s simply not practical or possible to take the medical imaging hardware we see in hospitals to remote locations. This means that patients in need of treatment can often miss out on vital scans and a higher standard of care.
The fact that these devices are low cost, hand held and can be used with a smartphone changes all that. These pocket sized scanners allow physicians to conduct sophisticated scans wherever they are in the world, potentially providing life-saving insight in areas where hospital scans aren’t accessible.
Their easy to use system combines a simple, portable device with sophisticated AI and cloud-based storage solutions. The lack of wires also leads to a lower risk of contamination and infection – potentially life saving details in less than ideal treatment conditions.
Butterfly are a real disruptor in the industry – not only is their device simple, but there’s also a low price point with each ‘iQ’ device coming in at just $2000. Bearing in mind that conventional scanners can cost up to $100,000 – that’s a huge difference.
It remains to be seen if this price point is sustainable. The unit has had success in the US but is still to go on sale in the UK, so the proof will be in the sales over the next couple of years.
Biim (pronounced beam) are a young Norwegian company who have received over $12M in funding as of January this year. They’ve gained FDA approval for five applications for their device, including musculoskeletal, needle guidance, paediatric, peripheral vessel and small organ (breast, thyroid, parathyroid, testicles), demonstrating the versatility of the scanner.
As it becomes more commonplace to have instant access to an ultrasound scanner, more and more applications for these devices are sure to emerge. For example, the portability of the devices could allow physiotherapists to make a diagnosis, pitch-side, for a Premier League footballer.
There’s sure to be lots more applications too. And once those applications have been devised, they’ll be much easier to pass on.
That’s because PoC scanners also make teaching much easier. Rather than having to take the lecture or seminar group into the hospital, the teacher can simply bring the device to the students. The low cost of the devices also means that students will be able to spend more hands on time with them.
The last company I wanted to highlight are EchoNous – already a leading developer of intelligent medical tools – whose aim is working towards integrating artificial intelligence into every day medical procedures.
Their platforms, the Uscan and EchoNous Vein, are designed for nurses, nurse practitioners and medical assistance to help deliver the best patient care with minimal discomfort.
The Uscan is an AI-driven bladder tool, which extracts more data from a patient’s bladder by combining it with machine learning based algorithms to help physicians make better informed decisions and diagnoses.
The EchoNous Vein allows medical professionals to quickly and easily identify veins, specifically designed for nurses inserting peripheral IV catheters – ensuring success first time and reducing patient discomfort.
As with all the devices and companies I’ve highlighted here – the lack of a huge machine with many wires and complicated configuration also makes the whole treatment process much less intimidating for the patient and simpler for users.
As demand grows for Point of Care Ultrasound (PoCUS) devices, currently calculated at CAGR of 6.9% until 2025, expect to see the companies mentioned here develop further.
As a specialist in the imaging space, I really enjoy speaking with professionals who are equally excited about the advances in this area, and I’d really like to hear the thoughts of my network too.
Let me know if there are any companies I’ve missed, or even if you disagree! Perhaps we’re getting too excited about this technology?
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