This article by Ambra Health CEO, Morris Panner, was originally published in Forbes on April 8, 2021.
Over the decades, the world has watched as major technologies like computers and phones have gotten much smaller, making them more convenient for people to use on the go. Fortunately, this has also happened with many medical technologies, which not only increases convenience but, more importantly, can save lives.
Once-cumbersome imaging equipment is becoming more portable, nimble and accessible. The best example of this trend may be the handheld ultrasound, which has been growing in popularity as a clinical asset. Because of its broad usefulness and easy portability, handheld ultrasound devices have even been likened by some clinicians as “the new stethoscope.”
Imaging At Your Fingertips
The handheld ultrasound — sometimes referred to as a PoCUS (point-of-care ultrasound) — is a probing device that literally fits into the palm of your hand. It charges much like a cellphone and can be quite affordable at prices as low as a few thousand dollars — a small fraction of the cost of a traditional ultrasound machine. It is, however, a more complicated tool than the humble stethoscope. A separate tablet or smartphone is required for showing the image generated by the probe, and some probes are only suitable to image particular parts of the body (although “all-in-one” options do exist).
An Array Of Applications
Naturally, the ultrasound is a standard imaging machine for OB/GYNs, but many other doctors, specialists and health care workers can use this technology. Handheld ultrasound can be employed in the ER on trauma patients to assess injuries or in a primary care physician’s office to identify patients at risk of stroke. They can be used to detect everything from rotator cuff injuries to urinary tract infections.
Handheld ultrasound devices have also had the unique opportunity to demonstrate their usefulness in the last year as the international medical community has grappled with Covid-19. Though the role of imaging in the pandemic has been met with mixed enthusiasm, it has been found helpful for triage. A Scientific American article from last summer asserted that many ER doctors worldwide considered these devices a “first line of defense” in confronting the disease, as the ultrasound could quickly show if there was lung damage — which would help determine whether a ventilator was immediately needed for the patient.
Anchored By The Cloud
An important issue to consider with the use of handheld imaging is how to aggregate and not lose all that data produced by this technology. Cloud-based imaging solutions are needed to complement emerging handheld ultrasound manufacturing by offering cloud-based image management, exchange and order creation.
Having the ability to easily connect a big “fleet” of hundreds or thousands of mobile ultrasound devices to an image exchange network allows hospitals and health care centers to not only leverage new mobile technology but also to more easily incorporate mobile ultrasound data into their existing imaging workflows and processes.
In many countries, it is required that medical imaging data be stored locally within that geography in order to meet local data privacy regulations. Therefore, it is critical to have a provider that can serve as the backend archive and hosting environment to bring mobile ultrasound technology to new areas in a compliant fashion.
A cloud imaging system is not just about secure storage. Facilities today are interested in the entire picture ranging from image exchange, rapid retrieval of prior imaging and immediate viewing, EHR integration and much more. When getting started with a cloud-based imaging strategy, it’s important to consider these factors:
1. What are the vendor’s data migration practices? This is especially important for small teams that are looking to move their operations online but might not have the technical staff to assist.
2. What is the vendor’s approach to interoperability? Many physicians already have to interact with more than one EHR/EMR system, and when you add imaging systems to the mix, it can cause increased confusion and administration time. You’ll want to ensure that your imaging cloud provider already has seamless integrations in place with the existing cloud infrastructure.
3. What type of capabilities does the vendor offer for patient access and education? Seamless patient access to imaging is a win-win. By providing a direct online link to imaging, facilities can avoid relying on CDs for image exchange, and patients can get their images when and where they need them.
Ultimately, it’s important for providers to select a cloud vendor that acts as a strategic partner to improve workflows, processes and the patient and physician imaging experience.
Making Imaging A More Primary Form Of Care
We are going to continue to see ultrasound play a more front-and-center role in a patient’s care, and patients will have greater access to their imaging in real time. For example, workflows can be designed that make it easy for obstetricians to ensure ultrasound images are quickly emailed or texted to expectant mothers following their appointment (maybe before they’ve even left the doctor’s office) with a link to where the image is securely stored in the cloud.
Point-of-care ultrasound devices are already optimizing patient care in many health care systems and can bring this critical type of imaging to impoverished areas here and abroad that might not otherwise be able to afford or provide space for a traditional ultrasound machine. Small but mighty, the handheld ultrasound is doing wonders to make imaging more accessible for everyone.