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Medical imaging, with its ability to provide deep insights into the workings of the human body, is one of the primary requirements of any healthcare facility today. It’s used by doctors to screen patients for suspected medical conditions in a timely manner by examining their internal structure and organs to detect abnormalities. While there are other imaging modalities for the same, ultrasound has indeed become a preferable diagnostic tool for several reasons. It’s not only safe, non-invasive, and radiation-free but is also cost-effective and easy to use, requiring no pre-exam preparation.
As simple as ultrasound technology seems, it would be safe to say that it’s incredibly beneficial for the medical industry. It’s a diagnostic as well as a therapeutic tool that can not only be used to detect and treat severe health conditions but can also be used to guide interventional procedures like biopsies and intravenous injections.
Due to its growing demand, ultrasound technology has developed tremendously over the last decade, leading to the advent of portable ultrasound machines that have widened the scope of its applications. Owing to smaller and more portable machines, ultrasound use is not limited anymore to large medical facilities and has extended to clinics, hospitals, remote villages, and emergency and other point of care settings. It has now even entered the realm of home healthcare monitoring!
In this article, we explore the history and advantages of portable ultrasound machines. In addition, we examine their technological advances and promising role in the home health monitoring devices market.
Applications of Portable Ultrasound machines in Home Health Monitoring
Portable ultrasound machines have heralded a new age of prompt, quick, and accurate diagnosis within the confines of the patient’s bedside or even home! Patients who are too sick to visit a clinic or hospital can be screened in the comfort of their homes due to portable ultrasound machines. Before we dig deeper into the recent advances of portable ultrasound machines for home use, let’s quickly examine the history of these machines.
History of Portable Ultrasound Machines
Ultrasound helps detect as well as treat major health conditions in a wide range of specialties. It is especially helpful in viewing soft-tissue structures and detecting abnormal fluid collection, blood flow, heart conditions, and pathology of abdominal organs.
When it was first invented, the standard ultrasound machine was quite bulky and expensive. The large size and high cost prohibited its use in regular medical facilities and clinics, which restricted the accessibility of imaging technology. Therefore, to a major extent, their use was limited to specialized large medical facilities.
Consequently, for wider accessibility, people started developing more portable machines that were also cost-effective in the 1970s. In fact, the first commercially available portable ultrasound machine was developed in 1975. Nonetheless, this machine was still quite bulky and nowhere close to the currently available advanced small-sized machines with high-quality imaging.
During the last two decades of the twentieth century, considerable progress gradually gave way to the battery-powered, pocket-sized ultrasound machine in the late 1990s. The advancement of ultrasound equipment continues to this day as increasingly smaller, lighter, and portable ultrasound machines that provide imaging that is at par with bulkier, costlier machines are being developed. We even have portable ultrasound Smartphones! The low cost of portable ultrasound machines (as compared to standard equipment) has increased their adoption in different types of healthcare facilities and clinics.
Advantages of Portable Ultrasound Machines
The applications of pocket-sized ultrasound machines are varied, ranging from the detection of abnormalities to therapeutic care for certain conditions. Most importantly, they are used to visually confirm findings of physical examinations on an immediate basis, saving lives in the process. The immediate correlation between visual and physical findings is extremely helpful for physicians in the emergency department and other point-of-care settings like the Intensive care Unit (ICU).
Apart from allowing timely screening in emergency settings, portable ultrasounds also improve the workflow of clinics and reduce patient waiting times as they can be moved from room to room. Owing to their ready accessibility, lightweight, compactness, mobility, low cost, and high-quality imaging, portable ultrasound machines cater to a wide range of applications and are the preferred diagnostic devices of gynecologists, obstetricians, cardiologists and a range of other specialists.
Recent Advances in Portable Ultrasound Technology and Applications in Home Health Monitoring
Ultrasound devices have become increasingly portable since their adoption in the 1970s, marking a major transformation. ‘Hand-held’ devices also referred to as ‘modern stethoscopes’ are now being developed and are being used to complement other clinical examinations. Their applications also extend to use by non-radiologists with limited training.
However, to be used for home health monitoring, portable ultrasound equipment would have to be used by non-specialists. It would be worthwhile to note that the use of portable ultrasounds by non-specialists (not trained for screening and interpretation) is premature and has not yet been established. Ultrasound can, nonetheless, be used to complement clinical examinations, potentially minimizing the need for formal investigations.
Portable Ultrasound Smartphone
With regards to home healthcare monitoring, there has been a recent development that looks promising – the revolutionary portable ultrasound Smartphone. The company Mobisante has developed the MobiUS SP1 system. This particular imaging device comes attached to a Toshiba handset. Although it’s limited in its applications by the fact that its small portable ultrasound wand is not compatible with iOS or Android devices, the portable ultrasound Smartphone can be used by medical practitioners for diagnoses in remote areas.
What makes the device extremely promising and versatile is that it can be used for a range of applications like monitoring pregnancies and scanning abdominal, pelvic, cardiac, and peripheral vessels. Since it allows images to be stored on a memory card and shared via USB or cellular and Wi-Fi networks, its potential in-home health monitoring cannot be ruled out.
In a IEEE Pulse journal, David Zar, instructor and research associate in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founder and chief technical officer of Mobisante, says that his company’s new portable ultrasound Smartphone – ultrasound probe that plugs into a smartphone – was developed with the aim to primarily achieve both portability and low cost.
He further explained that the idea of using the phone as an ultrasound imaging device occurred a few years ago when the significance of cell phones increased and their usage became comparable to that of laptops and desktop computers.
He had been researching ultrasound with a focus on low cost for two decades and realized that a phone as an ultrasound system could fill some gaps in the health-care domain, especially in regions with low infrastructure such as rural areas and developing countries. For its feasibility in such places, his company had to develop a low-cost model. The portable ultrasound Smartphone is not just a device per se but a complete package with a cell phone (installed with the app) and the ultrasound probe that plugs into the phone.
Since many cell phones lack a universal serial bus (USB) host port that the system needs to support reading a flash drive, the phone comes installed with the app. Furthermore, he details that patient privacy was important as the system was to store and transmit data. This factor led them to create a complete system with a separate cell phone as they didn’t want personal phones to be used for the same purpose.
Most importantly, the portable ultrasound Smartphone had to be easy to use, or else it could only be used by highly trained technicians, defeating the purpose of making it low cost and portable. Since image interpretation requires high-level training, it had to be separated from the function of image acquisition. The end result is that the system can be used by people with minimal training to capture images. Even in remote areas, community health workers and nurse practitioners are quickly trained to take good images and do a quick screening so they can send the images to an expert if they see anything remotely abnormal.
In the end, Mobisante hopes to add other diagnostic tests through sensors to make it a complete bedside analysis package. So its application in home health monitoring seems very plausible.
Promising Applications of Portable Ultrasounds in Home Health Monitoring
Furthermore, as rapid advancements in communications technology continue, they create a ripple effect for innovations in portable ultrasounds. For example, the inclusion of wireless features like Bluetooth and other communications in portable ultrasound machines has given another boost to the home healthcare market. Owing to such devices, it’s now possible to deliver superior and hi-tech home-based healthcare service through telemedicine. Since advanced portable ultrasounds are not only more mobile, but also include the ability to connect and transmit important medical data, their applications are likely to increase exponentially. Most importantly, the latest and most significant technological development is their ability to be recharged remotely or power-driven by fabrics and plastics! This highly sophisticated ability will allow practitioners to use them for longer durations without interruptions, even in remote settings with possibly no infrastructure.
Along the same lines, other manufacturers are exploring the application of semiconductor technology for developing innovative portable devices that can run on minimal power, thereby maximizing time in between charges. These planet-friendly devices reduce power consumption which in turn will lead to a lower overall system price, making them affordable to home-care givers.
As portable ultrasound machines with 3D and 4D medical imaging and more advanced features continue to evolve, they will find an increasing number of uses in the home healthcare monitoring segment. If you’re looking for a portable ultrasound machine, browse through National Ultrasound’s line up of portable ultrasound machines, including the GE Vscan Extend Dual Probe portable ultrasound machines.
We carry a wide range of trolley-based and portable ultrasound machines for rent and sale from all major manufacturers. Contact National Ultrasound to speak to one of our representatives who are skilled in evaluating your requirements and fitting you with exactly what you need!