Review of GE Medical’s V Scan Handheld Ultrasound

At last weeks Healthcare Innovation Expo in London I got a great tour of the GE Healthcare exhibition stand by Steve Hussey, Primary Care Ultrasound Manager, GE Healthcare, and my opinion of this product has been transformed.

Like a lot of clinicians I talk with my first impressions of the product were very skeptical, not least because of the untold harm done by Mike Barber, VP of HealthImagination, when (in a classic case of a bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing) he introduced the product showcasing it’s use on the neck (it’s not licensed to be used in the neck) which literally killed the product straight away from the perspective of the products marketing team.

I find this all too common in the area of mHealth (eg. Samsung’s recent launch video for new Galaxy smartphone in which it tried to appeal to senior users) and it’s clear that at GE Healthcare the repercussions of this have had a massive negative effect on adoption particularly as the company was introducing a brand new product/concept and didn’t yet have the white papers etc to help convince potential buyers. But it’s still a relative success and sales are now rapidly growing after clinicians who can see the opportunity have started using it and advocating for its use amongst their colleagues.

Launched in Feb 2010 the device has already been bought by 100 clinicians in the UK (98 of them are cardiologists) and there are 40 orders for the next quarter. At £5,000 each that’s an additional £700,000 of sales for GE Healthcare.

From what I can see the success can be attributed to a much smarter approach to marketing and the device is now sold as a “Visualisation device” for quick triage rather than as a diagnostic tool. The company is also very clear in ensuring that clinicians are aware that it’s designed for deep scanning (1.5-3.5 mHz) so it’s applications are limited to cardiac, abdominal and obstetric scans. This is key as it’s only licensed for use in the Chest Cavity, Abdomen and Pelvis.

To handle the patient privacy issues the device has no ability to store patient names etc. Images can be taken off the device or sent remotely to a specialist by removing the (concealed under the battery) SD Card and inserting it into any device that can upload it. To me this precautionary measure (no data associated with the image) highlights how half baked an idea it is for mobile operators to be getting involved in sending high quality ultrasound videos via MMS or to social networks such as Facebook.

Typically in the UK the V Scan is being used by cardiologists who are taking it around the wards, into ICU, A&E, ECU and into the cardiac cath labs to triage patients and make decisions whether to send them home or not. Highly skilled users are saying they can get 90% of a normal scan out of this so it almost makes it diagnostic – despite it (currently) being incapable of making measurements.

One Hospital has bought 6 so that all their Cardiology Special Registrars have them in their pockets enabling them to do thorough on the spot checks when out on the wards. In many cases they’re reporting that it’s saving unnecessary overnight stays in hospital as patients can now be sent home with instructions to visit the out patient clinics echo lab the next day for example. The most popular use is in the cardiac cath labs where patients have to be scanned after an intervention (such as an atrial fib ablation) to make sure they don’t have a pericardial effusion. Normally this would require a laptop based solution costing £50,000 or a high end system (costing over £100,000) but when it’s there it’s needed for as little as 10 seconds but it means that this more expensive piece of equipment can’t be available for use in the main department. With the V Scan they can just take it out of their pocket, scan the patient, see they’re fine, take them off the table and the jobs done.

The company has identified the biggest opportunity now in primary care although there are very complex issues surrounding training and clinical governance but I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see it start being adopted in the next few years by GP’s for pelvic examinations or in tandem with remote cardiac service providers (such as Broomwell Healthwatch). Thankfully for the time being there have been very strict rules of sale (you can only buy one if you have the relevant skills to use it) but there have already been websites set up offering to sell these (they’re all scams or unscrupulous linkbait as GE have a very regulated sales/distribution network) and this is going to be a massive challenge going forward as improvised devices (based on smartphones) proliferate as a result of recognition by trade associations such as the GSMA and West Wireless Foundation (even if the GE regulated product is actually cheaper to buy!).

The design and feel of the device (it’s ruggedised to withstand a 1.5 m drop) and the comprehensive service package (self check: plug it into the gateway and it will send data files to GE engineers in Hatfield who can remotely analyse it) is all very impressive and so far only 5 devices have been returned for repairs – which is quite amazing for a new medical grade product when you appreciate the working environment and realise that there have been smartphones sold in the UK with much higher return rates!

Oh and it docks on this neat looking little cradle/charger that you don’t often see in the press coverage (please excuse the finger prints I covet this device and got carried away trying it out!)

*** UPDATE *** 22 March 2011 ***

A TelecareAware news article by Donna Cusano picked up something interesting that I failed to comment on about the V Scan connectivity options.

“the data/images are stored on an SD card that must be removed from the device to send via another device such as a laptop. He doesn’t compare it with Mobisante’s handheld scanner/smartphone combo which skip the SD card step”

Instead of having embedded connectivity the V Scan only has a SD Card slot. Fortunately there is a very easy fix to add this functionality so that your V Scan can wirelessly connect the V Scan that to a wide range of wifi enabled devices (which includes most modern Smartphones). All you need is a Wireless SD card then simply tether this to your WiFi mobile (eg. check your manual for info on this – on Samsung smartphones this feature is called “Mobile AP”) and you’re images will immediately be sent to your mobiles SD card (and a secure online photo storage service if you set one up).

6 Responses to Review of GE Medical’s V Scan Handheld Ultrasound

  1. chris says:

    David, I have worked with this device and it is very inferior to the one I have in my
    office, but also 1/50 the size. I did not think I could get good pictures of the carotid artery, but should be able to distinquish large gallstones and solid vs cyst
    masses in many areas including breast.

    • Thanks for sharing your feedback. Not surprised you had no luck with the carotid (I bet even Mike Barber wouldn’t try that again!) but would be interested to know if you’ve been able to use the V Scan to help any patients avoid invasive/unnecessary/unpleasant pelvic examinations as this is where I’d have thought there is a lot of room for better medicine?

  2. […] last weeks NHS Innovation Expo. I’ll be posting the key take aways over the next fortnight (like I’ve done with this review of GE’s V Scan device) but I needed a picture that captured the essence of the problem I sensed. Thankfully there was the […]

  3. […] most interesting line comes from Eric Topol, a cardiologist who’s impressed by the GE V Scan (read my recent review here), when he cedes that “something will be lost when most face-to-face visits with physicians […]

  4. […] Mobisante’s Mobile Connected Ultrasound System (a conventional USB ultrasound probe that is connected to an app that only runs on an obsolete Windows 6.5 Smartphone and costs about the same as GE Medical’s V-Scan which is a similar dedicated device offering the full support of the worlds medical imaging giant – read my review of this here) […]

  5. […] reviewed first hand on this blog before, the Alivecor ECG iPhone case (review) and the GE V-Scan (review) it also mentions Don Jones, VP Lifescience, Qualcomm. Here he is experiencing his first 3G mobile […]

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