Low Cost Ultrasound Drives New Uses

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

In the age of pricey MRIs and CT scans, it may seem that new and evolving technologies add to the cost of health care, but one Seattle startup proves the opposite can also be true. By moving health care from “expensive” settings and putting mobile diagnostic tools in the hands of remote professionals, technology can increase access to care without increasing costs, says Mobisante cofounder and CEO Sailesh Chutani.

Mobisante manufactures a mobile imaging system that includes an ultrasound probe that attaches to a smartphone-like monitor with software developed by Mobisante. The system, which has the potential to bring diagnostic technology to remote or low-income regions, became commercially available last October after a year of clinical trials.

With software included, it retails for under $8,000—far less than conventional ultrasound machines, which typically cost tens of thousands of dollars. Although the quality is less refined than that of a traditional ultrasound image, the company says it is good enough for “quick look” applications such as triage exams in the ER, checking for high-risk conditions in a pregnancy and looking for kidney stones.

The ultrasound sensor, display monitor and software are sold as a unit, but the technology is meant for eventual use with smartphones. Chutani says the technology is particularly attractive in the developing world where a large proportion of the population might have access to a cell phone signal but not to the internet. Chutani pictures nurses and midwives in rural areas performing scans with Mobisante’s portable devices while radiologists in urban areas read transmitted data. If a scan shows potential complications, the patient could be sent to a hospital for the delivery.

Since many people have phone access but lack basic care, Chutani believes a product that takes advantage of a cell phone’s lower cost and portability—it can be recharged anywhere a cell phone can be charged—makes more sense than one that depends on a static, desktop PC. While the system is not yet compatible with many smartphones, Chutani says this situation will change as new versions are introduced. He notes the company also expects to have a tablet-based product in 2012.