The Future of Handheld & Portable Ultrasound Machines


Ultrasound technology has not only become widespread but also indispensable in the healthcare industry today. It’s now the preferred imaging modality of medical professionals worldwide, helping them examine organs and detect, as well as treat, both minor and life-threatening medical conditions.

The growing use of ultrasound can be partly attributed to the fact that the industry understands the dangers of exposing patients to other forms of imaging like x-rays. Of course, apart from the safety factor, other crucial aspects of ultrasound like its non-invasiveness, low cost, and ease of use have also played a large role in its ever-increasing significance in the medical field.

As the imaging modality continues to advance, ultrasound equipment is becoming increasingly smaller, more compact, mobile, and cost-friendly. From the advent of large, unwieldy systems to compact and portable ultrasound machines, imaging technology has undergone a marked evolution. In recent years, pocket-sized handheld ultrasound machines have been introduced, too.

While handheld systems became a reality only a few years ago, they’re here to stay.  The market for these miniature devices looks promising thanks to their small dimensions, ready accessibility, and convenience. Although this style of ultrasound machine cannot provide the full range of exams that larger ultrasound machines can, they are nonetheless a valuable diagnostic tool in emergency and point-of-care settings and private clinics.

One cannot underestimate the advantages of buying a handheld ultrasound machine, but what applications are they used in and how is a handheld ultrasound different from portable equipment? What is the cost of a handheld ultrasound machine? We answer some of these and other relevant questions in the next sections.

Types of Portable Ultrasound Machines


While the terms portable and handheld ultrasound machines can be used interchangeably, they’re not exactly the same. Most importantly, while all handheld ultrasounds are portable ultrasounds, not all portable ultrasound systems come under the hand-held category. To help define these similar terms, here are the three types of portable ultrasound systems:

Laptop-Based Systems – Laptop based systems can be easily carried to a patient’s bedside and their weight ranges from 10 to 14 pounds.

Compact Systems – Compact systems are still smaller, weighing from 5 to 8 pounds. These can be carried wherever they’re needed.

Handheld Ultrasound Systems – As the name suggests, these machines can be held in the palm of your hand. These are pocket-sized devices that doctors can carry with them at all times if need be.

The Current State of Handheld Ultrasounds

Handheld ultrasound machines are the smallest of the portable variety and can even be as small as the Smartphone. Their price range starts at $6,000 and can go up to $12,000.

GE’s VScan Extend is a handheld system that is generating a buzz with its compact size and versatility. Similarly, the Butterfly iQ – a scanner that can be attached to the Smartphone – uses a single silicon chip to create ultrasonic waves and allows different parts of the body to be examined without any additional apparatus.

GE VScan

The GE VScan, which is as small as the Smartphone, covers a wide range of uses. It’s designed for Emergency Medical Services such as ambulatory services and intensive care units. It’s also intended for use by medical professionals in remote regions and primary care doctors who otherwise would have to wait for reports from ultrasound or specialty clinics.

The VScan has a small screen on the top half, a pad with buttons at the bottom, and a small wand for scanning. The VScan Extend device comes with a dual built-in probe head including a linear and sector probe. This makes the device versatile, extending its use to a variety of applications including abdominal, thyroid, cardiac, lungs, and carotids. It can also be used in other emergency settings and critical situations thanks to its easy portability, accessibility, and readiness afforded by the dual probe head.

For easy and rapid transfer of images, the VScan Extend offers DICOM and cloud sharing capabilities. It also has an app with an interface to a cloud-based exchange solution. Additionally, there’s a range of handheld ultrasound apps available on the GE Marketplace. These applications can be used to tailor the device as per the needs of medical practitioners and include bladder volume scans, focused cardiac ultrasound, and lung assessment, to name just a few.

Thanks to its small size, versatility, and accessibility it’s no wonder that the VScan is referred to as the stethoscope of the 21st century.

Butterfly iQ

Butterfly iQ is a new hand-held ultrasound device that connects to an iPhone and runs on an iPhone app. The Butterfly iQ also allows users to take an ultrasound scan and transmit the images to their doctor over a cellular network. However, it is important to note that it has been approved for use by medical professionals only.

It can be used in different applications like obstetric, cardiac, and lung imaging. It uses a single silicon chip to create ultrasonic waves that penetrate through the body as opposed to the piezo crystals used by traditional ultrasound machines. The path-breaking ultrasound-on-a-chip technology allows scanning without the requirement of any other attachment or hardware. The app includes presets that make scanning of the different body parts simpler. This is in stark comparison to regular machines that require different probes to scan different parts of the anatomy. The iQ app further simplifies scanning with pre-settings that guide users to position the scanner for a complete image. Ensure your images are secure when transmitting with the iQ app as it is HIPAA approved.

Best part? It costs only $2,000.

Future Possibilities of Hand-held Ultrasound Systems

In the market today, there’s a reasonably good variety of handheld ultrasound machines for sale. They come with varying features and have advanced ergonomics. Some handhelds have transducers that can be connected to a tablet or Smartphone while others include the transducer and screen in a single unit. Still, others can be connected over a wireless network.

While the future possibilities seem endless, it remains to be seen whether these can support a wide range of exams and offer a high degree of accuracy. Some hand-held ultrasounds are being used in echocardiography while others can be used as a supplementary test for a physical exam. The rapid pace of technological progress can possibly give rise to hand-held machines that could transform healthcare delivery. Still, it remains to be seen whether they can simplify or fasten the clinical workflow to a large extent.

If you want to upgrade your ultrasound machine or are looking for the right ultrasound equipment for your practice, browse through our products. National Ultrasound carries a full line of equipment ranging from trolley and laptop-based systems, to portable systems including compact and hand-held ultrasound machines from major manufacturers, to suit a variety of needs. We also offer ultrasound machine rentals and financing! If you would like to discuss your requirements with one of our experts to get the right recommendation, contact National Ultrasound today. We would love to evaluate your requirements and fit you with the right product for your clinic!