Using POCUS in the emergency department (ED) to scan patients with suspected deep vein thrombosis (DVT) cut their length of stay in the ED in half.
Reducing hospital length of stay is one of the holy grails of healthcare quality improvement.
- It’s not only more expensive to keep patients in the hospital longer, but it can expose them to morbidities like hospital-acquired infections.
Patients admitted with suspected DVT often receive ultrasound scans performed by radiologists or sonographers to determine whether the blood clot is at risk of breaking off – a possibly fatal result.
- But this requires a referral to the radiology department. What if emergency physicians performed the scans themselves with POCUS?
To answer this question, researchers at this week’s European Emergency Medicine Conference presented results from a study of 93 patients at two hospitals in Finland.
- From October 2017 to October 2019, patients presenting at the ED received POCUS scans from emergency doctors trained on the devices.
Results were compared to 135 control patients who got usual care and were sent directly to radiology departments for ultrasound.
- Researchers found that POCUS reduced ED length of stay from 4.5 hours to 2.3 hours, a drop of 52%.
Researchers described the findings as “convincing,” especially as they occurred at two different facilities. The results also answer a recent study that found POCUS only affected length of stay when performed on the night shift.
Radiology might not be so happy to see patient referrals diverted from their department, but the results are yet another feather in the cap for POCUS, which continues to show that – when in the right hands – it can have a big impact on healthcare quality.
Performing routine third-trimester ultrasound scans on pregnant women could help identify breech pregnancies, giving women the opportunity to consider alternative birth options. UK researchers in PLOS Medicine said the impact was found with both conventional and POCUS ultrasound scanners.
While the incidence of breech presentation at full term is only 3-4%, when breech births do occur they can result in higher morbidity and mortality for both babies and mothers.
In the UK, third-trimester ultrasound scans aren’t routinely performed for low-risk women, missing a chance to give them other options like Cesarean birth.
- Therefore, researchers investigated the effectiveness and impact of these scans at two hospitals, one that used conventional ultrasound scanners and the other employing POCUS units (GE HealthCare’s Vscan Air).
- At the POCUS facility, scans were typically performed by trained midwives. Women were scanned between 2016 to 2021 at both hospitals.
Performing routine ultrasound scans at 36 weeks reduced the incidence of undiagnosed breech presentation by 71% at the hospital using conventional ultrasound and 69% at the POCUS hospital.
- The rate of undiagnosed breech presentation dropped from 14.2% to 2.8% with conventional ultrasound and from 16.2% to 3.5% with POCUS.
- The scans also had an impact on babies’ health. Infants born at either facility had less likelihood of a lower Apgar score (<7) five minutes after birth, and babies were less likely to be sent to the neonatal care unit.
The researchers believe their findings suggest a revision of the UK’s clinical guidelines, which don’t currently call for routine third-trimester ultrasound scans for low-risk women. With respect to POCUS, they said their research was the first to investigate the technology for diagnosing fetal presentation, and their findings support wider use of POCUS in areas where conventional ultrasound isn’t available.
What’s really exciting about this study are the findings about POCUS. Maternal-fetal complications are a huge problem in developing countries and places with less access to imaging technology. POCUS scanners could be used by trained personnel like midwives – perhaps with AI assistance – to identify problems before birth.
GE HealthCare took a major step towards expanding its ultrasound systems to new users and settings, acquiring AI guidance startup Caption Health.
GE plans to integrate Caption’s AI guidance technology into its ultrasound platform, starting with POCUS devices and echocardiography exams. GE specifically emphasized how its Caption integration will help streamline echo adoption among novice operators and bring heart failure exams into “doctors’ offices, the home, and alternate sites of care.”
- That’s particularly notable given healthcare’s major shift outside of hospital walls, especially considering that Caption has already developed a unique home echo exam and virtual diagnosis service.
- It’s also another sign that GE sees big potential for at-home ultrasound, coming less than a year after investing in home maternity ultrasound startup Pulsenmore.
GE didn’t disclose the tuck-in acquisition’s value. However, Caption is relatively large for an AI startup (79 employees on LinkedIn, >$62M raised) and is arguably the most established company in the ultrasound guidance segment (FDA & CE approved, CMS-reimbursed, notable alliances).
- The fact that GE HealthCare has already made two acquisitions since spinning off in early January (after a 16 month pause) also suggests that the newly-independent medtech giant has returned to M&A mode.
Of course, the acquisition is another sign that the imaging AI consolidation trend remains in full swing, marking at least the ninth AI startup acquisition since January 2022 and the third so far in 2023.
- One contributor to that AI consolidation surge appears to be ultrasound hardware vendors acquiring AI guidance companies, noting that GE’s Caption acquisition comes about six months after Exo’s acquisition of Medo AI.
Ultrasound’s potential expansion to new users and clinical settings could create the kind of growth that most modalities only experience once in their lifetime (or never experience), and ease of use might dictate how far ultrasound is able to expand. That could make this acquisition particularly significant for GE HealthCare and for ultrasound’s path towards far broader adoption.
Patients performing their own at-home ultrasound exams sounds like a pretty futuristic idea, but it’s becoming increasingly common in Israel due to a growing partnership between Clalit Health Services (Israel’s largest HMO) and DIY ultrasound startup Pulsenmore.
DIY Fertility Ultrasound – Clalit and Pulsenmore just signed an $11M agreement that will equip Clalit’s fertility treatment patients with thousands of Pulsenmore FC ultrasound systems over the next four years. The patients will use the Pulsenmore FC to perform self-exams during the IVF (in vitro fertilization) and fertility preservation processes and then transmit their scans to Clalit’s fertility clinicians.
Pulsenmore Momentum – Pulsenmore previously provided Clalit with thousands of Pulsenmore ES fetal ultrasound systems, allowing expecting mothers to perform and transmit nearly 15k fetal ultrasounds since mid-2020. Pulsenmore also landed an interesting deal with Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center in early 2021 that allowed pregnant women in Sheba’s COVID ward to perform their own fetal ultrasounds and transmit the scans to the hospital’s maternity ward.
Pulsenmore Potential – Pulsenmore’s early momentum is certainly helped by Israel’s unique healthcare system, but the company also has a European CE Mark (for the ES system), $40M in IPO funding, and ambitions to expand globally.
The fact that thousands of ultrasounds are being used in Israeli homes shows that the home ultrasound concept has mainstream potential, and there’s a growing list of factors that could make it a reality. We’ve already seen a similar home system from Butterfly Network and a major industry trend towards smaller and easier to use ultrasounds (or even wearable), while the COVID pandemic has increasingly normalized at-home diagnostics and teleconsultations.
It will take some big changes for handheld ultrasounds to become MORE common than the stethoscope, but that idea doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it did a few years ago.
GE Healthcare’s ultrasound portfolio became a lot more diverse last week with its acquisition of surgical ultrasound company BK Medical. Here’s some details and perspectives:
The Acquisition – GE Healthcare will acquire BK Medical from Altaris Capital Partners for $1.45b, separating BK Medical from Analogic. That’s a pretty big investment considering that GE’s ultrasound unit brings in $3b a year.
GE’s Surgical Expansion – With BK Medical, GE’s ultrasound unit expands from diagnostics to intraoperative imaging and surgical navigation, which is reportedly a fast-growing and high-margin business for BK Medical.
The BK Portfolio – BK Medical got its start in urology ultrasound, and more recently expanded to ultrasound systems used to guide minimally invasive and robotic surgeries and to visualize deep tissue during neuro and abdominal surgeries. That adds up to five unique ultrasound systems.
GE Impact – GE sees a lot of value in BK Medical. BK gives GE an ultrasound portfolio that the other OEMs can’t match (diagnostic, surgical, post-operative), “accelerates” GE’s precision health strategy, and will reportedly deliver “high-single-digit” ROI within five years.
GE Acquisition Trend – While GE Healthcare spent 2018 and 2019 selling major non-imaging businesses (value-based care to Veritas Capital, life sciences to Danaher), GE’s 2020 and 2021 acquisitions have focused on expanding its capabilities within imaging (Zionexa for radiopharmaceuticals, Prismatic Sensors for CT detectors, and now BK Medical for ultrasound). That says a lot about GE Healthcare’s imaging focus, and is quite different from Philips and Siemens, which have increasingly targeted M&A outside of imaging.