Ultrasound technology was revolutionary when it was invented in 1956, and it’s still revolutionary today in its ability to non-invasively see inside the human body in real-time. But ultrasound has yet to reach its full potential for both patients and clinicians.
Why hasn’t this incredible technology reached its full potential? Why does it remain largely locked away in the radiology department? And what will it take to unlock this technology and bring it to more patients and clinics around the world? While the adoption of handheld ultrasound devices is increasing across a variety of specialties, and providing more extensive patient care, there have been three major barriers in its way.
Why Ultrasound Has Yet to Reach Its Full Potential
Ultrasound has the capability to assist in a number of aspects of patient care, from diagnostic to treatment, and handheld devices today are portable, wireless, much less expensive than laptop-based systems, and can provide comparable imaging capabilities. Yet ultrasound still has yet to reach its full potential. Here’s why.
Reason 1: Ultrasound technology requires some training to use
Ultrasound is the only medical imaging modality that enables clinicians to literally see into the body in real-time. However, to the untrained eye, ultrasound images can look like indecipherable gray shapes. Until recently, it typically took clinicians years to be able to capture and interpret a good image. Plus, cart-based and laptop ultrasound systems come with buttons and knobs that need to be adjusted and fine-tuned depending on the anatomy being examined, making the learning curve steeper.
Yet handheld ultrasound systems are accelerating the use of ultrasound outside the radiology department. They are proving to be much easier for new users, especially when they are focused on learning how to scan specific anatomy and to guide procedures. As a result, more clinicians are seeing the value of ultrasound.
Also, AI technology is fast-tracking training and promises to help with interpreting ultrasound images in the near future with an open software platform, which enables ultrasound innovators to bring solutions to market faster — and AI will potentially save the healthcare economy $150 billion.
Reason 2: Ultrasound hasn’t been part of medical school curricula and old-school clinicians didn’t see the value.
Point-of-care ultrasound is relatively new and medical schools haven’t been equipped with the right tools. Many senior, less technically savvy clinicians who have been taught traditional diagnostic methods continue to rely on those techniques, leaving ultrasound tools out of basic training.
However, this is changing as more schools realize the value of real-time ultrasound imaging and handheld ultrasound has made it affordable for medical schools to acquire systems for their students.
The younger generation of digital natives are seeking new options for improving patient care and see the value of real-time ultrasound imaging. To help grow adoption, today’s ultrasound companies are facilitating education outside of medical school with workshops, webinars, and educational videos presented by point-of-care ultrasound experts. Even more senior clinicians are turning to handhelds, which many say, are as easy to use as their smartphones.
Reason 3: High-quality ultrasound systems were expensive.
Buying an ultrasound system for a private clinic used to be a significant capital expense. Some specialists, such as pain specialists, were able to justify the expense as they were paid by medical plans for ultrasound guidance, but those who are not reimbursed have found it difficult to justify the cost.
Fortunately, the emergence of affordable, high-quality ultrasound and easier access to training is changing this equation for clinicians who want to provide better patient care. Handheld solutions represent 60 to 90 percent savings over traditional ultrasound systems. Also, more clinicians and patients are becoming aware of the value of ultrasound-guided treatments. Immediate access to ultrasound is helping clinicians provide faster and more accurate care as well — and they’re spreading the word.
How Ultrasound CAN Reach Its Full Potential
For ultrasound technology to reach its full potential, it requires an ecosystem of partners to bring this incredible technology to more specialties through an open platform that enables third-party companies to easily integrate their innovations. Instead of developing proprietary hardware, ultrasound innovators can focus on advancing their AI-powered solutions to help users learn how to use ultrasound, provide guidance during procedures, and offer on-the-spot diagnoses.
Ultimately, the ultrasound market will become much bigger than it is today, and clinicians who embrace this technology now will gain a major competitive advantage by improving patient outcomes, differentiating their practice, and expanding the services they offer.
Ultrasound into the Future
Ultrasound technology was revolutionary when it was invented in 1956, and it has the potential to revolutionize medical practices to deliver better patient care today and into the future. The global handheld ultrasound market is already a $7B today, and as the technology evolves, the aforementioned challenges to adoption will begin to fall, allowing for more widespread usage across specialties to help patients with diagnosis and treatment.
Author: Ohad Arazi President and CEO, Clarius Mobile Health