GE Reveals Phone-Sized Ultrasound Device

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GE's new ultrasound device fits in the palm of your hand.

GE's new ultrasound device fits in the palm of your hand.

The first time I saw this thing I thought, “Holy crap! An iPod mated with an X-ray machine.” General Electric (NYSE: GE) CEO and Chairman Jeff Immett debuted a pocket sized ultrasound scanner a few weeks ago at the Web2.0 conference in San Francisco. The Vscan is aimed at enhancing the level of diagnostic power of the average doctor, helping detect dangerous conditions before they get worse. Check out the introductory video from GE Reports after the break.

Ultrasound has a wide range of uses from examining fetuses to checking on the heart. It’s non-invasive, provides relatively quick results, and costs less than other examinations. The Vscan puts all of those advantages in the palm of your doctor’s hand. GE hopes that the device will become as common as the stethoscopes doctors rely upon today.


As Mike Barber (GE VP) mentions above, the Vscan fits in well with the larger launch of healthymagination. That project highlights GE’s commitment to capitalizing on trends towards personalized healthcare. What Barber fails to demonstrate though, is how the Vscan actually works. For that, we turn to MedGadget and the Vscan demonstration video below. How does someone get the job of an ultrasound test subject at a convention? And I thought promotional models were over-exposed, sheesh.

I agree with the stunned statements of the video narrators. The Vscan capabilities are amazing. Doppler scanning, information storage, voice recording notes, and cardiac scan settings – I’m sure medical professionals could find reasons to prefer the larger traditional ultrasound devices, but from a layman’s perspective this thing looks like it has it all. Mike Barber’s video left out that the Vscan, like all ultrasounds, requires a gel to make proper contact between wand and boy. Fortunately such gel is very cheap and shouldn’t impact the price of the system.

In fact, GE hopes to promote Vscan as a cost saving device. Allowing general practitioners to examine a patient with ultrasound could eliminate the need for some referrals to specialists. Additionally, the early detection of cardiac damage, or water around the heart could translate into money as well as lives saved. GE is working with a dozen key clinical sites around the world to determine the best manner in which to incorporate the Vscan into traditional patient flow. Increasing efficiency in the healthcare system could be the biggest money saver of them all.

Of course, all the promise in the world doesn’t mean anything until the Vscan is in the hands of doctors. I’m buying into GE’s hype, but I think it will take several years of clinical trials and testing in the field before there’s a chance the device could make it to your local doctor’s office. Yet the Vscan may be part of a larger trend. We’ve already seen handheld technology for genetics, general life signs monitoring, bacterial detection, and oncology. As other medical technology is miniaturized we may see similar products for many other applications. In the years ahead, your neighborhood doctor could use technology to transform herself into a temporary specialist in a variety of fields. Too cool.

[photo credits: GE Reports]

Discussion — 18 Responses

  • Anthony Musci November 4, 2009 on 10:05 pm

    So you’re buying the hype, huh? Only problem is, creating the device and putting it on the market is the easy part. Most clinicians are not adept at reading ultrasound images, so the real trick will be ensuring that faulty clinical decision-making is not the result of tool misuse and misinterpretation.

  • Anthony Musci November 4, 2009 on 6:05 pm

    So you’re buying the hype, huh? Only problem is, creating the device and putting it on the market is the easy part. Most clinicians are not adept at reading ultrasound images, so the real trick will be ensuring that faulty clinical decision-making is not the result of tool misuse and misinterpretation.

  • Mark Bruce November 5, 2009 on 12:58 am

    Anthony, thats why we can look forward to future versions of the product loaded with smart software agents that handle the diagnosis automatically; the clinicians just need to act on what they’re told.

    There are smart software agents that already exist that can read and diagnose ECG and MRI scans better than any human, for example.

  • Mark Bruce November 4, 2009 on 8:58 pm

    Anthony, thats why we can look forward to future versions of the product loaded with smart software agents that handle the diagnosis automatically; the clinicians just need to act on what they’re told.

    There are smart software agents that already exist that can read and diagnose ECG and MRI scans better than any human, for example.

  • Nelson Oliver November 20, 2009 on 3:04 am

    I’ve been developing med U/S XDCRs for more than a decade, and I’m here to tell you that nobody will ever make an expert system that can replace the clinician, or even reduce his/her responsibilities. This ain’t MRI. Sit in the room with one at work for ten minutes and you’ll get it.

    There’s also a reason why the majors each build something like 75 different XDCRs to go with their various systems – there’s no one-size-fits capability. Sure, if you want to narrow it down to picking out shrapnel from GI’s then you have a chance at making a useful app for a handheld. But what do you think that they’re showing you at Web2.0? It’s just the best images that they could gin up, of course – what else would you expect?

    Sex appeal of a handheld aside, there are fullsized systems made in China that are astonishingly cheap and eminently more useful, since they accept the whole panoply of probes that are required to fulfill the traditional missions of diagnostic U/S.

    GE – Gee Whiz!
    BFD.

  • Nelson Oliver November 19, 2009 on 11:04 pm

    I’ve been developing med U/S XDCRs for more than a decade, and I’m here to tell you that nobody will ever make an expert system that can replace the clinician, or even reduce his/her responsibilities. This ain’t MRI. Sit in the room with one at work for ten minutes and you’ll get it.

    There’s also a reason why the majors each build something like 75 different XDCRs to go with their various systems – there’s no one-size-fits capability. Sure, if you want to narrow it down to picking out shrapnel from GI’s then you have a chance at making a useful app for a handheld. But what do you think that they’re showing you at Web2.0? It’s just the best images that they could gin up, of course – what else would you expect?

    Sex appeal of a handheld aside, there are fullsized systems made in China that are astonishingly cheap and eminently more useful, since they accept the whole panoply of probes that are required to fulfill the traditional missions of diagnostic U/S.

    GE – Gee Whiz!
    BFD.

  • Anders Selbing January 5, 2010 on 7:49 am

    The Vscan will be a wonderful tool in the delivery room that is already full of all kinds of equipment and, in emergency cases, staff. It will be easy to bring and the physician in charge of the delivery will have instant access to required information.

  • Anders Selbing January 5, 2010 on 3:49 am

    The Vscan will be a wonderful tool in the delivery room that is already full of all kinds of equipment and, in emergency cases, staff. It will be easy to bring and the physician in charge of the delivery will have instant access to required information.