Portable ultrasound could be medical game changer

GE Healthcare

Innovation: VScan portable handheld ultrasound device

Historically, medical diagnosis and additional testing has been ordered based solely on what the medical provider feels or hears during a physical examination of a patient.

However, what if the medical provider could actually see the inside of the patient- immediately, without ordering additional imaging tests or even having the patient leave the room? That’s what Waukesha-based GE Healthcare hopes to accomplish as its Vscan portable imaging device becomes more popular among health care providers.

“Our vision is for this to be a very essential part of the physical exam in multiple care settings,” said Agnes Berzsenyi, general manager of Vscan at GE Healthcare. “Vscan has the potential of improving the quality of care and even reducing overall health care costs. We’re excited about what the device has to offer.”

Vscan is a hand held, smartphone-sized device that uses ultrasound technology to provide a medical provider with a visual look inside a patient’s body during a routine physical exam. It is optimized to provide high-quality abdominal, urological, cardiac obstetric and pediatric imaging, Berzsenyi said.

“Our goal is to help strengthen the clinical confidence and improve accuracy of diagnosis from clinical providers,” she said. “Because Vscan can provide a visual image it can also help with the speed of diagnosis and quickly help the patient move to the next necessary phase in the process.

Vscan was developed and launched officially in 2010 as a product of GE Healthcare’s Healthymagination program which strives to make all aspects of health care more affordable and accessible to everyone, including patients and providers in communities across the globe, Berzsenyi said.

“GE Healthcare is committed to reducing health care costs and providing access to quality care anytime, anywhere,” she said. “Vscan is smart imaging technology and because it’s highly portable it can be used in a variety of medical situations including emergency, triage, physical exams and cardiology.”

European countries have purchased Vscan on a wide scale basis for their general practitioners, Berzsenyi said.

“With general practitioners in the community using Vscan they’ve been able to improve the quality of referrals and reduce the waiting lists.”

GE Healthcare conducted a European study with 189 patients and some of the top cardiologists in the country. The cardiologists first conducted routine physical examinations on 189 patients, Berzsenyi said.

“From their initial examination they sent some (of the patients) on for additional examinations and some (were sent) home with no additional tests required,” she said.

The cardiologists then conducted the same examinations using the Vscan device.

“Of the people they (had) sent home, 29 percent of them were then sent to get additional testing (after the Vscan test) and of the people they sent for additional tests 45 percent of them didn’t need any referrals the second time around,” she said. “And these are top cardiac physicians. The Vscan can improve the quality of diagnosis and help reduce the waiting lists and health care costs associated with tests that aren’t really needed.”

The Vscan device is portable and very lightweight.

“It’s designed to be carried in a physician lab coat,” Berzsenyi said.

Medical professionals can choose what type of examination they are doing, place the probe on the patient and see either black and white or color images of inside the patient.

“It’s very easy to use. Physicians can place the probe in one hand and move around to different areas- saving the images as they go,” Berzsenyi added.

Dr. Jason Jurva, a cardiologist at the Clement J. Zablocki V.A. Medical Center in Milwaukee, said he is finding the new Vscan technology helpful in increasing the efficiency of care.

“The benefit of it is it’s with me all the time,” Jurva said. “I don’t have to go borrow a big ultrasound machine from the lab, and I can pretty much always answer clinically relevant questions with it.”

Jurva uses the Vscan on a daily basis as an adjunct to his physical examinations. It’s faster than a traditional ultrasound machine, he said.

The Vscan device runs on a chargeable battery and also comes with a docking station for easy uploading of patient information. Medical professionals can load information with patient ID numbers and can also upload information using the memory card in the device, Berzsenyi said.

The Vscan device is sold globally. According to GE Healthcare there are five other Vscan users in the Milwaukee area in addition to the V.A. Medical Center.

The device is sold for $7,900, and GE Healthcare already has sold several thousand units globally, Berzsenyi said.

“The affordability and portability of this product also makes it great for rural settings where it’s more challenging to have different types of imaging capabilities,” she said.

Approximately 15 medical schools in the world are also using Vscan, according to GE.

“Our hope is to train future physicians on the device so it becomes a natural part of the physical examination,” Berzsenyi said. “It’s not meant to replace traditional ultrasound technology, it’s meant to enhance it. Our goal is to improve patient physician relationships and the quality, accuracy and efficiency of diagnoses.”

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