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This year marks the 10th year of the GE Vscan, the world's first handheld ultrasound scanner. A decade later, handheld ultrasound scanners don't seem to be living up to the market's expectations.
Taking 2018 as an example, in the global US$6.9 billion ultrasound equipment market, sales of handheld ultrasound equipment were less than 2%. The early development was slow, and the constraints were the handheld ultrasound cost is high and the performance is limited.
With the continuous improvement of products over the years and the continuous innovation of the entire market, handheld ultrasound equipment is beginning to unlock its own value.
Cardiologists were early adopters of handheld ultrasound devices. Handheld portable ultrasound can be used as initial screening tools in clinics, at the bedside during ward rounds, and in interventional wards.
Stork's Wireless Palm Ultrasound: Applications in Cardiac Exams
Most of other users are emergency physicians, especially emergency medical personnel, intensive care personnel in intensive care units, and military personnel.
Stork's Wireless Palm Ultrasound: Application in ICU
Subsequently, handheld ultrasound has gained some acceptance in procedural ultrasound, including vascular access and anesthesia. Emergency medicine was the largest handheld ultrasound market in 2018, worth approximately $15 million.
However, this represented only 10% of the total sales of ultrasound systems used in emergency medical care that year. Of these, compact and vehicle-mounted systems account for the largest market share, as are point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS).
In addition to the expanding use of handheld ultrasound devices in the traditional POCUS market, physicians in various medical specialties such as urology, gastroenterology, and vascular medicine are beginning to generate more demand.
Specialists in the department are using hand-held ultrasound for quick examinations and initial screening as an aid to a more powerful vehicle-mounted system in hospital departments. An expanding customer base, coupled with affordable prices, has seen global sales of handheld ultrasound devices increase by more than 50% in 2019.
However, the increasing use of ultrasound outside the hospital also brings new challenges.
The first is the issue of reimbursement, which in most countries is limited. Even in reimbursable countries, physicians in the department often do not have an escalation process to ensure that medical examinations meet billing requirements.
Additionally, there are challenges associated with certification, data security, and quality assurance issues for handheld ultrasound devices (for image acquisition and interpretability).
While handheld ultrasound device may see mainstream adoption, many institutions lack the IT infrastructure needed to provide seamless patient care between offices and hospitals.
Therefore, the industry as a whole must properly address and overcome these challenges to ensure quality of care and enable handheld ultrasound devices to reach their full potential. The primary care scenario remains an untapped market for handheld ultrasound and may be the biggest opportunity.
According to statistics, there are more than 250,000 primary care physicians in the United States alone. To date, the handheld ultrasound used by the primary care physician community has been mainly in developed countries, but in recent years low- and middle-income countries have also begun to use the device.
Among the latter, handheld ultrasound devices play an important role in assisting diagnosis in medical imaging. The device is mainly used for cardiac screening, pregnancy screening and diagnosis of respiratory and abdominal diseases. We also believe that handheld ultrasound will see increasing use in urban primary care.
Stork's Wireless Palm Ultra
The price of handheld scanners has dropped significantly over the past few years. For many primary care physicians, this is a cost-effective option.
The latest generation of handheld scanners have many presets for common exam types. With AI embedded, even doctors without experience scanning with handheld ultrasound equipment can capture high-quality images.
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