Siemens gambles on palm-sized ultrasound device

February 1, 2007

Siemens' P-10, a palm-sized ultrasound scanner shown for the first time at the RSNA meeting, is due out later this year. But radiologists probably won't be using the Blackberry-like device.

Siemens' P-10, a palm-sized ultrasound scanner shown for the first time at the RSNA meeting, is due out later this year. But radiologists probably won't be using the Blackberry-like device. Nor are they likely to interpret the images it produces.

In hopes of speeding workflow, Siemens Medical Solutions wants to put the P-10 into the hands of nurses, technicians, and emergency medicine specialists.

"It's a screening device that allows early detection in emergency situations: the intensive care unit, ambulance, or helicopter," said Klaus Hambeuchen, president of Siemens' ultrasound division. "It could change the time needed to make a decision. The outcome for patients could be different when this instrument is available."

Radiologists have already expressed concern about making such devices available to nonphysicians. Siemens, however, plans to implement a responsible, albeit pragmatic, marketing approach, according to the company.

It will sell the device only to medical professionals and not general consumers, as has happened with some fetal ultrasound systems. Hambeuchen said the company will not sell the P-10 to consumers under any circumstances.

"We will insist that, as an ultrasound system, it stay under regulated conditions," he said.

As much a concern as who uses the device is how good the quality of the images it delivers will be. P-10 is not a high-end multichannel device, but it delivers images of a quality competitive with those coming from most of the handheld systems on the market today, according to Hambeuchen.

Initially, the P-10, which is slightly larger than a Blackberry and weighs about twice as much, will provide only basic gray-scale imaging built around B-mode technology. A second version currently in the works will be outfitted with color Doppler.

To increase flexibility, Siemens' engineers built Native TEQ technology into the tiny system. This software allows a single transducer to perform several different scanning applications.

Lithium-ion batteries make scanning possible for about an hour without recharging. Users will be able to download images and import data from a hospital information system.

"With this, ultrasound will be available when needed. It won't have to be transported or rolled in; it will provide multipurpose use; and it will provide connectivity to a hospital system," Hambeuchen said.

Given these capabilities, the P-10 scanner is more than enough to meet its stated purpose, he said.

"We're not intending it to replace standard ultrasound," he said. "This is a stethoscope-type ultrasound system that can be in your pocket or hung around your neck."

If that's where it ends up, sonography will be forever changed.