How a pocket-size ultrasound scanner can save lives around the world

Fri, 2016-04-08 14:04 -- Liz Enbysk

When only three cardiologists serve an urban and rural community of 800,000, cost, quality and access are all huge healthcare challenges. That's the situation in Kota Kinabulu, a provincial capital of East Malaysia.

But the Vscan Pocket Ultrasound developed by Council Lead Partner GE is changing the game. It allows trained clinicians to go into communities and schools to conduct tests for rheumatic heart disease -- a disabling and largely preventable disease prevalent among children and adolescents in the developing world.

Dr. Liew Houng Bang, director of cardiology at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabulu, sees the battery-powered Vscan as transformational. He field-tested it in the remote jungle village of Kampong Terian.

“With nowhere to recharge Vscan, the battery life allowed me to examine at least 50 villagers, and I identified a few new cases of rheumatic valve disease,” he said.

The beauty of the handheld scanner is it can be easily integrated into physical exams at point of care – schools, for instance – to make better and faster on-the-spot diagnoses and to better communicate with patients.

Getting technology to the people
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), infant and maternal mortality rates are among the world's highest. One challenge is that much of the country's population lives outside the cities and pregnant women often have to traverse rugged terrain to access healthcare. Some give birth along the way, putting mother and child at risk. Still another challenge, according to EMTV Online, there are only 300 practicing physicians serving 7.5 million people.

A partnership between GE Healthcare, the PNG Tribal Foundation, Premier Healthcare aims to help. Ten Vscans have been strategically placed at health clinics in the Enga province with training provided to the practitioners.  The idea, EMTV says, is to get the ultrasound to people who can't or won't access services otherwise.

Task-shifting to midwives
In Banna in the Philippines, the Vscan is seen as a way to shift basic obstetric scanning to midwives and also to better inform clinic decision-making and pregnancy management. Abnormalities can be detected immediately and the woman can be referred to a higher level of care.

“Our goal is to work hand-in-hand with the government partners and private healthcare providers to build a sustainable healthcare system in developing regions globally,” Ivan Arota, country manager for GE Healthcare Philippines, told the Malaya Business Insight.

Taking the next step
Five years after introducing Vscan, GE introduced a new version – Vscan with Dual Probe – that allows healthcare providers to image shallower structures of the body, like the carotid arteries, jugular veins or hip and knee joints.

"The past five years have proven that miniaturized, portable ultrasound technology like Vscan can have a tremendous impact on the practice and economics associated with healthcare in developing and developed nations,” said Anders Wold, President and CEO of GE Ultrasound.

GE says its latest addition to the world of portable medical technology will impact access to healthcare from the rural maternity clinic to the inner city hospital emergency room.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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