Health care is rife with issues, but advances in medical imaging can be a solution for some of them.
For anyone following the health care space, it would be impossible to deny the industry is grappling with complex, systemic problems. From an imbalanced patient-to-provider ratio and care access challenges to the rising cost of care, the health care industry is rife with issues – issues that by no means are easy to solve. However, it is critically important to address these issues for the health and well-being of both our health care providers and the greater population.
As digital health and health information technology (IT) investors, we seek out solutions that don’t just incrementally improve how care is diagnosed or delivered, but that have the potential to fundamentally transform the health care industry at large. Disruptive shifts require highly sophisticated solutions that are effective, accessible, and scalable; solutions that can seamlessly enhance health care operations while simultaneously enhancing health outcomes.
One solution I am quite bullish on is artificial-intelligence (AI)-enabled, handheld point-of-care ultrasound, or POCUS.
Most of us have seen ultrasound technology and the value it delivers by allowing caregivers to see inside the body and diagnose issues in a safe and noninvasive way. While ultrasound solutions are central to directing treatment for a variety of diseases and conditions, this technology is not used as widely as it should be in the United States, nor is it available to most of the world. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that half to two-thirds of the global population lacks adequate access to basic imaging technologies such as ultrasound.
Why is this? For one, traditional cart-based ultrasound equipment is expensive, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Secondly, cart-based systems are very large and complicated to use, making it difficult to introduce them in certain environments including the home. The technology is only attainable for larger, resource-rich health systems and its inaccessibility will only exacerbate as care settings diversify.
Handheld POCUS devices solve for these challenges, offering caregivers portable, pocket-sized solutions that can conduct scans at a fraction of the cost of traditional cart-base systems and with high image quality. However, despite having the key ingredients to drive health care transformation, these devices have, until now, failed to experience broad adoption due to a combination of cost, quality, complexity, and inability to seamlessly integrate with the billing and PACS infrastructure.
One of the primary reasons caregivers have been hesitant to embrace handheld POCUS devices is that they have historically lacked the high-quality imaging capabilities offered by cart-based solutions. More than that, these devices, to date, have been nonintuitive. Busy caregivers don’t have the time to learn to use cumbersome tools, and they definitely won’t adopt technologies that compromise their ability to effectively diagnose and manage care.
The good news is that recent technological advancements are enabling handheld POCUS solutions to be more intuitive and offer superior image quality. With the advent and power of piezoelectric micromachined ultrasonic transducer (pMUT)-based chip technology – introduced by medical imaging company Exo – modern devices can provide rapid quality evolution and real-time AI capabilities that empower caregivers to get immediate answers about what’s happening inside patients’ bodies based on comprehensive frame analysis.
Better yet, AI-powered, handheld POCUS devices make it easy for any caregiver to capture and interpret medical images – not just trained specialists. This means more caregivers can diagnose and treat more patients in less time. By enabling high-quality care at scale, POCUS will have a profound impact on the future of care – especially as we navigate an imbalanced patient/provider ratio and rising care costs.
Beyond the clinical benefits of AI-powered, handheld POCUS solutions, modern medical imaging technologies can introduce significant operational efficiencies.
In addition to the barriers mentioned above, a key reason health systems haven’t embraced POCUS is because most solutions haven’t seamlessly integrated with existing workflows. By making it easy to connect next-era POCUS devices with electronic medical record and hospital PAC systems using software, such as Exo’s Exo Works™ solution, caregivers can efficiently access and share imaging information across the care continuum. This has myriad benefits. For one, it allows caregivers to document, review, bill and manage quality assurance for medical images in seconds, not hours – helping to reduce provider burnout. Two, it boosts system efficiency by sharing patient information, curbing the cost of care. And three, it empowers caregivers to practice at the top of their license, letting them focus on delivering exceptional patient experiences and outcomes for the betterment of the population.
With such pivotal POCUS advancements, we are racing toward a new era of medical imaging. More than that, we are entering a new era of health care – an era defined by greater caregiver support, reduced cost of care and better patient experiences and outcomes for all.
Eric King is an investment director located in the Bay Area. He was part of the Intel Capital investment team from 2000 to 2006 and then rejoined Intel Capital in 2017.