Jyoti Gera

How advances in handheld ultrasound will impact the doctor’s office

February 18, 2020
By Jyoti Gera

Primary care doctors guide us through our healthcare journey with compassionate, individualized care and are a trusted resource for families. They know us well, and for many, the relationship with a primary care physician can be lifelong. While a primary care doctor’s investment of her time and talents is paramount, he or she also needs to be continuously equipped with innovative technologies to perform at the top of their license.

Handheld ultrasounds are one example of these technologies. In a recent survey from GE Healthcare, two out of three primary care doctors who use handheld ultrasound devices said they feel it positively impacts their practice . As doctors continue to discover the value of this technology in assessing and diagnosing patients at the point of care, we can expect to see more primary care physicians embrace handheld ultrasound thanks to solutions that are intuitive and fast at increasingly affordable prices.

Patients too are taking notice. In a similar survey, 52% of consumers said they think their doctor should make use of the latest medical technology when affordable.

So, what’s ahead for handheld ultrasound technology, and how will it benefit primary care?

Increased artificial intelligence integration will support better diagnostics
Artificial intelligence (AI) has had an impact on numerous aspects of healthcare delivery by enabling faster and more precise care. When it comes to handheld ultrasound, AI can reduce time-consuming and repetitive tasks and improve image quality, potentially leading to a faster and more accurate diagnosis.

Take, for example, an AI-powered cardiac application that guides clinicians to capture an image and then analyze it. This reduces the need for visual estimation and boosts diagnostic confidence as a result. It also helps create consistency across users, as one may be more liberal with his measurements, while another may be more conservative with hers.

AI will help enable primary care doctors scan, diagnose and treat a wider range of patients across a broad spectrum of conditions, and provide crucial information more quickly. And we’ve only scratched the surface. As AI evolves, so will handheld ultrasound technology to bring in new users and enable new uses.

Handheld ultrasound devices will continue to be easier to use
Many doctors cite training and ease of use as barriers to adoption; however, this is slowly but surely changing.With increased technical advancements,handheld ultrasound devices are becoming more intuitive and easier to navigate.

There are also more readily accessible training opportunities, such as telemedicine capabilities, which allow technicians to share images and request insight from peers. This allows for remote supervision and addresses common training barriers, such as personnel shortages and unbalanced resource distribution.

On top of this, several medical schools have integrated handheld ultrasound training into their undergraduate and post-graduate medical curricula. In fact, in a recent study, medical residents found that by implementing pocket-size ultrasound examinations that took less than 11 minutes to the usual care, they were able to correct, verify, or add important diagnoses in more than one of three emergency medical admissions.

As more current and future doctors learn how to use the device, they will better understand its benefits and will be more eager to integrate it into their practices.

Reduced market costs will drive increased adoption
Until recently, diagnostic imaging technology was not only clunky and difficult to transport, but also came at a steep price. Fortunately, innovation has reduced the size of handheld ultrasound devices, while bringing down costs. As a result, the market is at a tipping point and is moving from early adopters to mainstream users. Currently, there are more than 240,000 primary care physicians in the United States alone, and they continue to be seen as future adopters of handheld ultrasound.

It is expected that by 2023, the global market for handheld ultrasound will exceed $400 million, with more and more primary care physicians integrating the device into their practice.

As AI, ease of use, and reduced costs become the hallmarks of handheld ultrasound, these devices could become as essential and common as the stethoscope.

About the author: Jyoti Gera is the general manager for primary & affordable care at GE Healthcare.