Consumer ultrasound: Dangerous & irresponsible?

By Brian Dolan
12:29 am

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsWill patients ever use handheld ultrasound devices at home? Some sonographers believe that's idiotic, moronic, dangerous, highly irresponsible, "right up there with in-utero glamor shots," and "the worst idea I have heard of."

The consumerization of medical devices, however, is a common vision for the wireless health industry. For example, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group recently predicted Bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes like 3M's will be available for consumers to use at home in the coming years. 3M, however, said it had no such plans just yet.

Late last year GE Healthcare unveiled its ultra-mobile ultrasound device, Vscan, at a pricepoint of less than $8,000. A few months later the West Wireless Health Institute's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric Topol told attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show that in a few years patients would be using similar devices at home to scan their own heart ECHOs, which they would then send to their doctor.

That vision also includes connectivity with a medical professional who analyzes the data, and, as noted above, some of those tasked with analyzing this data are far from bullish about it.

GE's Vscan officially launched this week thanks to recent clearance from regulatory bodies, including the FDA. Our coverage of the launch generated a number of fiery responses that we traced back to a discussion board on the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography's website. SDMS is an association for medical professionals who use sonography or ultrasound technologies to perform diagnostic testing for patients.

UPDATE: To be clear, GE Healthcare has not suggested that consumers use the Vscan device at home. Here's an official statement from the company that hammers this point home: "GE Healthcare's position on Vscan use is that GE Healthcare does not support the usage of GE Healthcare Vscan for anything other than bona fide medical purposes pursuant to a physician prescription. Federal law restricts this Vscan System to sale by or on the order of a physician."

Here's more from the (uncensored) readers' comments we received:

Rob Says: "This is by far the most idiotic, simplistic and deceiving medical article (advert?) I have ever read in my 33 year career as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. 'People are going to be doing their own ECHOs and sending them to their doctors in the not too distant future,' he predicted. Unbelievable. Yup, even simians can scan a heart!"

Dwayne Says: "Are you kidding me? This is right up there with inutero-glamour shots. It took me years of scanning just to begin to understand what is going on in the body, let alone grasp the conceps of ultrasound physics. To make this available to the public is the worst idea I have heard of."

Norma Says: "Physicians returning to house calls is a wonderful thought and how nice for the patient. Patient’s scanning themselves? Um, no, never. What a ridiculous notion. Dangerous and highly irresponsible to even publish such rubbish. Thoroughly trained sonographers have YEARS of OJT by competent mentors, or anywhere from 18 months to 4 years of advanced training ALONG with 100’s of clinical hours. I want to know which one of these people who stated these quotes and put out this piece would be perfectly comfortable with their family member (being a layperson) scanning themselves and sending it to a cardiologist for interpretation and subsequent treatment based on that self-scan. Shame on you all. This is going to bring alot of negative light to a perfectly fine diagnostic tool, all in the quest for the almighty dollar. Money changer in the temple."

Bill Says: "I would add similar to what several others above have noted, the notion of patients scanning themselves and having a physician diagnose based upon those images is moronic. I hope there are no physicians out there willing to do so. Fortunately this device being an Medical Ultrasound device, by FDA regulation is only to be bought and used by Physicians and/or medical facilites. Hopefully this regulation will prevail, and the FDA will be granted the Teeth to be able to enforce it. The more products like this that are introduced, being so small and (relatively) inexpensive the more you will see lay-persons try to be their own Doctor. They will be sadly mistaken once they try and find they don’t know up from down. Now the next thing is we need licensing which requires competency bar exam (ARDMS, CCI) in order to practice. There are too many Psuedo-Sonographers out there already, we don’t need every Joe Schmoe doing medical ultrasound too, furthermore, this would just increase our already overburdened workload with unnecassary testing because “hey Doc I got this new toy and I saw this thingy and it really looks bad”. Half the Doctors that refer to us already don’t really know what they are looking for, we don’t need more nightmares."

Eric Topol Says: "I am surprised about the harsh comments above regarding patients acquiring their own ultrasound and transmitting the image to their physician. This is how screening for breast cancer will be done someday in the future, as ultrasound is an order of magnitude more sensitive than mammography. For patients with congestive heart failure who develop symptoms, this would be invaluable to sort out the actual cause of decompensation. The comments above do not give adequate credit to consumers who can be quickly taught how to properly place an ultrasound probe on their body and acquire a suitable image. This has nothing to do with interpretation of the image. In the future these naysayers will figure it out thanks to consumer driven health care. The same response was mounted many years ago when home external defibrillators were being developed. Now these are widely used with the right patients and in the right circumstances."

What's your take? Will medical devices like ultrasound machines and others find their way into consumers hands? Or is that vision an irresponsible and dangerous one? How do we (safely) get there?

In Other News: I am happy to announce that I will be participating in a live video webcast with the American Telemedicine Association's CEO Jonathan Linkous next Friday, February 26 to discuss "Emerging mHealth Markets: The World of Health and Medical Apps." I will discuss some of the topline results from MobiHealthNews first research report, "MobiHealthNews Presents: The World of Health and Medical Apps." The webcast is free for ATA members and $40 for other attendees. Register Here


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