GE Plans to Sell Phone-Size Ultrasound Device in 2010

ge-chairman-ilmmentOct. 20 2009 General Electric Co., the world’s biggest maker of medical imaging equipment, plans to sell an ultrasound device early next year that’s about the size of a mobile phone.

“This could be the stethoscope of the 21st century,” Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt told an audience while demonstrating the device today at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

GE Healthcare plans to use a dozen sites in Asia, the U.S. and Europe in an initial study to see how health-care personnel in three fields — primary care, critical care and cardiology — think the device can best be used, Omar Ishrak, CEO of the health-care unit’s systems division, said in an interview.

Immelt is doubling research into more efficient and affordable products targeted at areas including developing markets as imaging-equipment sales drop to an estimated $4.5 billion in the U.S. this year, down 31 percent from the 2003-06 average. The device, called Vscan, builds on GE’s miniaturization techniques, laptop-sized interfaces and the four-dimensional ultrasound introduced in 2002, Ishrak said. Its price will be based on testing feedback.

“This power, this capability, at this size and this simplicity of use is completely unprecedented,” Ishrak said. “To gauge a fair value for it, we need to go through this process.”

FDA Approval for the Phone-Size Ultrasound

GE, which competes with Siemens AG and Royal Philips NV in medical imaging, called the handheld Vscan a “breakthrough” and said it doesn’t yet have a competitor. The device, which has image quality equivalent to that of a mid-range ultrasound console such as GE’s Logiq line, received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval last month and has a CE mark, which means it can be sold in Europe, the company said.

small-altrasound-device“This is a result of our experience in miniaturization and our increasing understanding of laptop-style interface where simplicity of interface is important,” Ishrak said. The product was developed by GE Healthcare’s engineers around the world, led by staff in Norway. “There’s a lot of interest,” Ishrak said.

The device may be used by primary-care doctors to more quickly diagnose ailments such as gallstones, by critical-care workers to quickly confirm symptoms such as fluid on the heart and by cardiologists trying to determine how well a heart is pumping.

The device is 75 millimeters, or about 3 inches, wide; 135 millimeters, or about 5.3 inches, long and 28 millimeters, or less than 1 inch, high, according to the FDA approval notice filed in September. Images are in color, Ishrak said.

Patent Settlement

The Vscan’s debut didn’t depend on GE’s patent-litigation settlement with Sonosite Inc., a maker of portable ultrasound machines, announced yesterday, GE spokesman Corey Miller said.

Under GE’s “healthymagination” initiative announced in May, the company plans to spend $6 billion by 2015 on products, financing and partnerships it says are designed to make more efficient and affordable treatment available worldwide. About $3 billion is being spent on targeted products, Immelt said in May.

GE Healthcare, run by John Dineen, also said today that it will enter the next phase of testing for an “alert” system that links medical breakthroughs with electronic records of patients with pre-existing conditions. Alerts may also be sent to specialists, notifying them of research and treatment findings.

The system, being developed with the Mayo Clinic and Salt Lake City’s Intermountain Healthcare, will be tested at Intermountain and made available next year.