Remote control distinguishes Toshiba high-end ultrasound

June 2, 2004

The key to sales today is differentiation, focusing on the one or two features that make a buyer want to buy a product and a user want to use it. The search for that hook leads through an alphabet soup of bells and whistles-many of them proprietary

The key to sales today is differentiation, focusing on the one or two features that make a buyer want to buy a product and a user want to use it. The search for that hook leads through an alphabet soup of bells and whistles-many of them proprietary contrivances that hint at one optimization or another.

Toshiba's Aplio has plenty of those-and something else. Remote control.

"We originally thought it would be of most use with contrast ultrasound exams, which tend to be technically complex," said Erin P. Owen, product development manager for Toshiba's ultrasound systems division. "But it's had its biggest impact on general imaging."

By that Owen means just about every aspect of sonography. Vascular, breast, musculoskeletal, endovaginal, and endorectal imaging-all are made easier with iAssist.

"We interviewed customers and they felt more comfortable, they didn't feel like they were overreaching all the time," she said.

But iAssist is more than a convenience. Messages related to exam protocols can be programmed into the handheld controller, which displays them on the console screen at critical junctures in a procedure. Lengthy and complicated procedures are less challenging. They're typically faster, too. Time savings come from not having to strain to handle patient and machine when positioning the transducer while manipulating the console. iAssist also provides an optical advantage.

"It eliminates the sonographer having to interact with the keyboard," Owen said. "When we did eye movement studies in Japan, it was unbelievable how many times a person doing a scan looks at the keyboard."

Toshiba's iAssist puts the keyboard in the operator's hands using Bluetooth wireless technology. Buttons on the remote control are programmable, making every system function literally a finger touch away. A miniature joystick adds flexibility.

The souped-up remote control was initially shown as part of the Aplio version 5.0 upgrade announced during the RSNA meeting late last year. Cleared by the FDA in February, iAssist began shipping a month later.

Aplio is loaded with plenty of other features, some of which have more meaning for users outside the U.S. One is designed to get the most from ultrasound contrast media during vascular exams, an application not yet cleared by the FDA for marketing in this country. U.S. sonographers benefit more from others, such as the extended field-of-view possible with the company's trapezoid imaging and broadband transducers that improve resolution.

In a few weeks, Toshiba will show Aplio's next upgrade, version 5.5, at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and American Society for Echocardiography meetings. Some features built into this upgrade make workflow more efficient. QuickScan, a one-button optimization technique, extracts soft-tissue data from white noise, improving brightness and uniformity while suppressing artifacts.

Others have been designed to enhance diagnostic accuracy. Differential tissue harmonic imaging filters out middle bandwidth harmonics to improve contrast resolution. This is especially important when imaging challenging patients, such as those who are obese.

"Typically, with tissue harmonic imaging you lose some penetration," Owen said. "With this we gain it."