March 26, 2010

3 Min Read
Image Makeover

In addition to hearing the word 'redemption' bandied about ad nauseum, those of us infected with Olympic fever last month were repeatedly exposed to a loop of ads from the games' corporate sponsors. A commercial from GE Healthcare, however, achieved the impressive feat of tearing my thoughts away from the thrills and spills of the games every time it aired.


Featuring a montage spanning various eras and cultures, the commercial follows physicians as they interact with patients and spout the age-old line "let's take a look" while peering at patients' stomachs. Promoting GE's Vscan pocket-sized visualization tool, the ad culminates with a modern doctor delivering the familiar line to a pediatric patient laid up in an ER setting. This time, though, "let's take a look" has a new meaning. The doctor, Vscan in hand, applies the probe and obtains quick access to internal images--right at the point of care.

As depicted in the commercial, GE's imaging oeuvre represents progress in noninvasive point-of-care diagnostics. Weighing less than one pound and measuring just 3 in. wide and 5.3 in. long, the Vscan also represents an evolution in the design and development of portable imaging systems.

Shrinking imaging technologies from conventional consoles to laptop-sized systems to handheld units (HHUs) create significant challenges for design engineers and their vendors. Chief among them is reducing the unit's size and power consumption without sacrificing performance or image quality. Designing in a battery is especially tricky; it must balance low power consumption and a small footprint with high performance and maximum battery life. And that's a tall order.

Engineers must also assess the end-use of the HHU--which likely differs on some levels from that of a console--and limit functionality accordingly without sacrificing performance. "The intended use for Vscan is different from that of a conventional ultrasound system," notes Kjel Kristoffersen, chief engineer, GE Technology Infrastructure-Healthcare. "Vscan was primarily designed to visually aid [in] the physical exam, and had to be operated by a single hand only. Ultrasound modes were limited to B-mode and Color Doppler, and quantification kept at a bare minimum."

A smaller overall package also demands miniaturized internal components or, at the very least, more-creative layouts. Internal real estate is at a premium, after all. With this in mind, some electronics companies are consolidating multiple-component functionality into a single product to save space. "[Our] portable ultrasound solutions, such as the AD927x family of octal ultrasound receivers, enable system designers to replace many discrete components with a single integrated circuit while maintaining or enhancing performance," says Scott Pavlik, worldwide strategic marketing manager, Healthcare Group, Analog Devices Inc.

Despite the difficulties of designing such HHUs as the Vscan and the Acuson P10 from Siemens Medical Solutions, which was unveiled in 2007 as the world's first pocket ultrasound, the payoff is worth it. A pocket-sized imaging tool opens the door to better patient care by way of point-of-care diagnostics in the ER, in an ambulance, and even on the battle field. Or, in the case of Vscan this winter, even on-site at the Olympic games.

Shana Leonard

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