Consumer Tech Takes Home Medicine to New Heights

 

Nov 03, 2017

One of the most powerful forces driving product development is a view towards simplification.

This desire was definitely the motivation for vascular surgeon John Martin and emergency room physician Joshua Broder – both of whom targeted the extremely pricey and often inconvenient ultrasound equipment that they rely upon for diagnosing patients.

In Martin’s case, discomfort in his throat led him to try a pocket-sized, iPhone-compatible ultrasound device called the Butterfly iQ. It’s the brainchild of Connecticut-based Butterfly Network – where he happens to be the chief medical officer.

The iQ uses micro-machined ultrasonic emitters that are placed on a semiconductor chip. The much smaller size and price difference (about $110,000) stems from the device’s technology almost exclusively being housed on a microchip.

The company is pushing to get the $2,000 unit on the market before the end of the year.

And it would be hard to find a better spokesperson than Martin. That throat discomfort he experienced ended up being cancer cells which he discovered after running the iQ across his neck.

In Border’s case, he wondered why his son’s Nintendo Wii controller was able to detect movement more accurately than the ultrasound machine he had at work.

The ER doc felt that if a handheld ultrasound device could incorporate the same motion-sensing technology of the video game controller, these images could be obtained by simply moving the controller across the patient instead of having them endure the cost and radiation of CT scans or the discomfort of an MRI. 

Broder teamed up with engineers from Duke and Stanford Universities to embed the same kind of $10 microchip used by game controllers and smartphones to create an ultrasound wand. This wand feeds data into software that takes all those 2D images and forms a comprehensive 3D view. This capability allows doctors to scan different areas of the body and analyze them in greater detail. 

The device is currently undergoing clinical trials.

In both cases, these scanners are not as precise as their more expensive counterparts, but they could play important roles in obtaining information sooner and limiting the need for more expensive and more exhausting procedures.