How handheld devices will cannibalize existing medtech

By: Brian Dolan | May 12, 2011        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsImaging apps and mobile ultrasound devices are trending this year. Part of what is driving the trend are FDA clearances: MIM Software’s Mobile MIM app became the first diagnostic smartphone app to achieve FDA clearance in early 2011 and Mobisante’s handheld portable ultrasound device, MobiUS, received FDA clearance a few weeks later.

At the Wireless Life-Sciences Alliance Convergence Summit in San Diego this week, Dr Eric Topol, who is on the record as being an enthusiastic supporter of handheld ultrasound machines, especially GE’s Vscan device, explained his use of the device and the future he sees for it and devices like it.

“We have talked about the Vscan and other pocket ultrasound devices as being revolutionary,” Topol said during his time on stage. “These allow for understanding individual bodies in ways that are unprecedented and up until a few years ago — unimaginable.”

Topol said that “stethoscope” is a term that is outdated because it implies the ability to “look” or scope into the patient’s chest. Pocket ultrasound devices actually do that and Topol said he now has little reason to only listen to a patient’s heartbeat again.

These devices mean much more than just helping care providers look inside patients, however, Topol said. They help make the patient-physician relationship more intimate, he said. In order to have imaging scans done today, most patients leave the physician to have the scan done. Topol said while that is being carried out the patient cannot discuss what the tech is seeing. When a physician uses a pocket ultrasound device, however, they can explain what they are seeing in real-time so the patient can see what’s going on too.

What transcends that one-to-one relationship, Topol said is the ability to now send a short image loop of data directly to a specialist.

Topol said that lack of reimbursement for these devices is what’s stifling uptake of them. Topol believes these devices could create cannibalization of sales of larger and more expensive medical equipment. That cannibalization likely gives companies like GE Healthcare pause since it sells both the handheld ultrasound and the more expensive larger, fixed units.

It doesn’t give Mobisante pause. The new upstart’s CEO Sailesh Chutani, made it clear that he sees his company’s lack of legacy medical devices as a competitive advantage.

  • Steve Agular

    This is a great example of what @claychristensen:twitter terms “disruptive innovation” and I am sure the large incumbents such as GE Healthcare are giving pause. These upstart mHealth companies are allowing diagnostic care to come directly to the patient instead of the patient having to travel to a centralized point-of-care — at a much lower cost than the more expensive legacy machines/systems! Clearly, lack of reimbursement is a major hurdle, but I am confident that the U.S. healthcare regulatory framework will adjust over time to facilitate the adoption of new mHealth technologies.

  • Dan Munro

    Per Steve’s comment – very disruptive – and good to highlight the monolithic giant GE here. All the warm fuzzy ads around ‘Healthymagination’ do little to change the fact that GE has made a global fortune on MRI/CT equipment. I think it was @paulroemer who said “there are more MRI machines in Pittsburgh than all of Canada.” That, in turn, has played very well into our “fee-for-service” healthcare system. When the baddest tool in the tool box is a hammer – everything starts to look like a nail.

  • David Albert, MD

    I hate to be the naysayer here but having been at GE when the V Scan was “imagined” as GE Labs, these devices will not replace conventional tools like stethoscopes anytime in the near future. You need to reduce the cost by an order of magnitude (10x) to make a serious penetration and you need to add passive audio receptivity (lungs and bowels don’t US well– it’s the air thing).

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