Written by Michelle Bui
About a month ago, Clarius Mobile Health released its first handheld ultrasound machine. While most ultrasound machines are bulky contraptions that need to be rolled around like a wheelchair, this is essentially a transducer, or probe, that can connect wirelessly to most iOS and Android devices to display ultrasound images. The creators claim that they can “withstand challenging environments and are water submersible for easy cleaning and disinfection” . In addition to its durability, its portability promises physicians the ability to triage patients no matter where they are .
Before considering the implications of this new device, it is worth explaining how ultrasounds work. Most people are familiar with the use of ultrasound in viewing the development of babies in pregnant women. In this process, the physician places a transducer on the stomach, which sends sound waves into the body. These waves then bounce back and are detected by the same transducer, which is connected to a screen for image display. Mediums in the body like fluid or tissue will return waves with varying amplitudes and frequencies, translating into images that depict everything from the flow of blood to the hand of a developing fetus. The technology allows ultrasonographers to view the inside of the body in real time, retrieving a short movie clip of what is going on without any invasive or risky surgical action necessary . Clarius’s new device is unique in that it turns the screen—typically something analogous to a computer screen from the 90s—into a mobile device, scaling down the size of the machine. Not to mention, it takes advantage of technology that everyone has access to in the modern day .
Although the viability of Clarius’s handheld ultrasound is still questionable, ultrasound itself has been a growing tool for screening and diagnosing patients for years. Outside of viewing developing fetuses, studies have shown that it can be used for diagnosing everything from abdominal problems like small bowel obstruction, to ocular pathologies like retinal detachment, to heart issues like pulmonary embolism [1, 3, 7]. It has especially been useful in procedures such as central line placement, where a catheter is placed into one of the larger veins in the body to introduce medication or fluids. Since the process needs to be performed with precision to avoid misplacement, ultrasound is used to view the trajectory of the needle so that vital parts of the body are not accidentally punctured .
The wide range of applying ultrasounds has led to its growing use in countries such as Canada and the United States. In fact, students in some medical schools are now taught to use ultrasounds prior to beginning residency. However, as seen with Clarius’s new launch, technology is advancing much faster than anyone could have predicted. Many hospitals that have only recently implemented ultrasound programs lack the proper resources, planning, and training to utilize these machines to their full potential [5,6].
Despite this, Clarius’s choice to merge this medical tool with modern technology points to not only its utility, but its demand. While people are still figuring out how to optimize the role of ultrasound in medicine, there is already the implication that it will become a part of a doctor’s routine practice in the future.
1. Adhikari, Srikar R., MD, RMDS. “Small Parts - Ocular Ultrasound.” Sonoguide.com. 2008. Web. 21 May 2017.
2. “Clarius Demonstrates Ultrasound for Disaster and Emergency Medicine.” PRN Newswire. 25 April 2017. Web. 21 May 2017.
3. “General Ultrasound.” RadiologyInfo.org. Web. 21 May 2017.
4. Geria, Rajesh, MD, RMDS and Hoffman, Beatrice, MD, PhD, RMDS. “Ultrasound Guided Procedures in Emergency Medicine Practice - Vascular Access.” Sonoguide.com. 2008. Web. 21 May 2017.
5. Léger, Pierre et al. “A Majority of Rural Emergency Departments in the Province of Quebec Use Point-of-Care Ultrasound: A Cross-Sectional Survey.” BMC Emergency Medicine 15 (2015): 36. PMC. Web. 21 May 2017.
6. Sanders, Jason et al. “Access to and Use of Point-of-Care Ultrasound in the Emergency Department.” Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. 20 October 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
7. Taylor, Mark et al. “Adult Small Bowel Obstruction.” Academic Emergency Medicine. 12 June 2013. Web. 21 May 2017.