Siemens develops palm-size ultrasound scanner

December 6, 2006

In 2007, Siemens Medical Solutions plans to introduce what could be the market's smallest handheld ultrasound system. The company selectively demonstrated the palm-sized, Blackberry-like device at the 2006 RSNA meeting, typical treatment for a new product or a work-in-progress.

In 2007, Siemens Medical Solutions plans to introduce what could be the market's smallest handheld ultrasound system. The company selectively demonstrated the palm-sized, Blackberry-like device at the 2006 RSNA meeting, typical treatment for a new product or a work-in-progress.

The concept of the device arose about three years ago as an offshoot of Siemens' lightweight, portable Acuson Cypress cardiovascular system. An expanding handheld ultrasound market encouraged the development of this smaller, lighter device that the company has dubbed P-10.

"This is a stethoscope-type of ultrasound system that can be in your pocket or hung around your neck," said Klaus Hambeuchen, president of Siemens' ultrasound division.

There is increasing concern among radiologists about the image quality of handheld devices and the diminutive size of the unit may play into that concern. Although P-10 is not a high-end multichannel device, it competes with the majority of the handheld systems available on the market today in terms of imaging capability, Hambeuchen said.

To compensate for its size, Siemens' engineers fit the unit with the company's Native TEQ technology, which is being incorporated into the Acuson line of scanners. The software allows a single transducer to perform several different scanning applications.

Lithium-ion-type batteries will make up the handheld system's power plant. As a result, Hambeuchen said, scanning can be conducted for the better part of an hour. The device can also download or import data onto a hospital information system for either hospital-based or emergency environments.

"It's not going to replace standard ultrasound, but it's a screening device that allows early detection in emergency situations in the ICU, in the ambulance, or in the helicopter," Hambeuchen said. "These are new and different markets."

Siemens plans to market the device particularly to professionals in nursing, emergency medicine, and ICU care. Radiologists have already expressed concern about making such devices available to nonphysicians. Siemens, however, plans to implement a responsible, albeit pragmatic, marketing approach.

"We have seen some (radiologists) who are concerned that we would get a good quality ultrasound of that size into everybody's hands. But my answer to that is, if we don't do it, somebody else is going to," Hambeuchen said. "We are thriving in this innovation area and we have the support of many radiologists to do so."

Siemens will sell the device only to medical professionals and not general consumers, as has happened with some fetal ultrasound systems.

"It would be absolutely against our interest to see this as a commercial consumer product," he said. "That's not what we intend and we will insist that, as an ultrasound system, it stay under the regulated conditions that we live in."

The unit is slightly larger than a Blackberry and weighs about twice as much, yet it fits into the pocket of a clinical coat. It provides, among other features, B-mode imaging. A second version in the works includes color Doppler scanning.

"When it comes to clinical value, workflow is number one," Hambeuchen said. "It's available when needed, doesn't have to be transported or rolled in, and allows multipurpose use and connectivity to a hospital system. It does what ultrasound is intended to do, provides more information than a stethoscope used in emergency situations, and could really change the time needed in order to make a decision and to come to a therapeutic process. The outcome for patients could be different when this instrument is available."