Demand for hand-carried ultrasound booms in 2007

January 13, 2008

Global demand for hand-carried ultrasound units rose 42% in 2007, according to industry analyst Harvey Klein. Total medical sales were $565 million compared to $398 million the year before.

Global demand for hand-carried ultrasound units rose 42% in 2007, according to industry analyst Harvey Klein. Total medical sales were $565 million compared to $398 million the year before.

The rate of growth will slow in the coming years, an inevitable result of a broadening installed base, Klein said. But momentum will propel worldwide sales in the next five years to about $1.2 billion, said Klein, drawing from his recently published research entitled, "The U.S. Market for Hand Carried/Handheld Ultrasound Systems: Challenges & Opportunities - 2007 Report." Excluded from the report are revenues from service as well as from the sale of veterinary systems.

Leading the global charge is GE Healthcare, which last year became the undisputed leader in worldwide sales of hand-carried units. A year earlier, the company was locked in a dead heat for market leadership with rival SonoSite. In 2007, however, GE pulled well ahead.

Klein estimates that GE last year held 44% of the global marketplace for these units, defined as diagnostic ultrasound systems weighing 11 pounds or less. SonoSite held 36%.

These two companies, therefore, accounted for 80% of the global sales of hand-carried ultrasound units. The remaining 20% was divided among several other players. Of these, Zonare stands out as having more than any other, although Klein did not provide details. The company markets a unique ultrasound system, z.one, which can be used as a cart-based system or separately as a hand-carried device.

As in past years, the U.S. was the largest single market in the world for hand-carried ultrasound products. Vendors in 2007 generated $239 million from the sale of these systems to U.S. customers. In this single marketplace, SonoSite sold more hand-carried units than any other company, including GE.

Demand worldwide is coming primarily from five segments: cardiology, emergency medicine, radiology, anesthesiology, and ob/gyn. The widespread use of distributors outside the U.S. confounds analyses of segment sales, Klein said. In the U.S., however, where major vendors use direct sales forces, cardiology and emergency medicine stand out as the major adopters.

GE has been gaining ground on SonoSite in the U.S. and world particularly through advances made in cardiology, according to Klein.

"SonoSite doesn't really play in the cardiac game," he said. "This has left an opening for GE, which has come in with a very fine product in the Vivid i."

Some of the double-digit gains made by hand-carried ultrasound are coming at the expense of cart-based systems, according to Klein. Overall demand for ultrasound devices is growing about 5% worldwide, he said. The global market for hand-carried units will rise about 20% in each of the next five years in the U.S. and 15% annually in the rest of the world with an average worldwide growth rate of 17%.

"With those kinds of growth rates, the hand-carried market has to be taking some share away from cart-based systems," he said.