Agilent launches handheld ultrasound system at cardiology meeting

March 28, 2001

Following the commercial release of OptiGo, Agilent is hoping cardiologists can be convinced to use its handheld ultrasound system in place of a stethoscope. Introduced March 19 at the annual American College of Cardiology meeting in Orlando, FL, the

Following the commercial release of OptiGo, Agilent is hoping cardiologists can be convinced to use its handheld ultrasound system in place of a stethoscope. Introduced March 19 at the annual American College of Cardiology meeting in Orlando, FL, the handheld OptiGo is being positioned as an integral part of a basic, modern-day cardiac examination, one that replaces the whispers, gurgles, and clicks detected by a stethoscope with moving pictures of cardiac anatomy and function.

"Ultimately, I'd like to see it become part of the standard of care-that doing a cardiac assessment involves actually looking at the heart," said Susan Moynihan, Agilent's product marketing manager for point-of-care ultrasound.

OptiGo will initially be marketed to cardiologists, as they are already familiar with the interpretation of echocardiographic images. Later, Agilent plans to target internists and general practitioners, as well as specialists such as anesthesiologists, who might use the device to quickly assess a patient whose condition is deteriorating. Moynihan pegs early annual sales of the device, which sells for $11,900, at up to 2500 units, but she sees that number growing 10-fold within five or 10 years.

Compact and portable, OptiGo weighs in at about seven pounds and is a little bigger than a laptop computer. It has a 2.5-MHz phased-array transducer and offers 2-D and color-flow Doppler imaging. The handheld unit runs on AC power or a rechargeable battery that can last about two hours with each charge.

OptiGo is not designed to replace a full echo exam, but rather to provide a more accurate assessment of heart size and function than would otherwise be possible during a bedside or office exam. It could be used to more readily detect a faulty heart valve that allowed jets of blood to shoot backward from the ventricle into the atrium, for example. It could also be used to assess how strongly the heart was pumping or whether it had become enlarged and flabby.

A study from the University of Chicago, reported at the annual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association in November, suggests that handheld echo devices have promise for such applications. The study found that use of an OptiGo prototype cut in half the rate of missed cardiac diagnoses when compared with physical examination alone.

Other studies have suggested, however, that training and experience are crucial if handheld echo devices are to be used reliably and accurately. In clinical sessions at the ACC meeting, cardiologists underscored that point, calling for validation of handheld echo in each clinical setting in which it might be used.

Agilent has yet to determine its role in physician training, Moynihan said. The company is starting with a pilot training program to introduce OptiGo to medical students.

Besides training issues, uncertainties about reimbursement could cast a shadow on the handheld echo market, as these devices are incapable of performing all of the views necessary to support billing for a full echocardiography exam. The solution, Moynihan said, is to make future versions of OptiGo even smaller, easier to use, and less expensive-say, $5000-so that cost and reimbursement are not crucial issues for buyers.

"I'd like to see it become like an expensive laptop," Moynihan said.

© 2001 Miller Freeman Inc.
3/28/01, Issue # 1506, page 5.