By Tom Salemi
GE Healthcare Ultrasound's Vscan imaging system is small enough to fit in a coat pocket.
Anders Wold, president and CEO of GE Healthcare Ultrasound, sees at least three billion opportunities in the world.
Speaking at the Economist’s Health Care Forum in Boston last week, Wold said three billion people in less developed countries don’t share the same level of access to ultrasound technology as the developed world.
“That is an untapped opportunity, but a big opportunity for us. Our goal is go after the three billion,” he said.
Wold said GE’s reach into undeveloped markets has been lengthened by decentralization. When he joined the company 15 years ago, nearly all of GE’s $300 million in sales came from “two or three” products made in the company’s only plant—located in the United States—and sold mostly in the developed world.
Today, following an intentional effort to get boots on the ground in markets worldwide, GE Ultrasound is a $3.5 billion business selling and making roughly 40 products. The company has 14 sites worldwide.
“I have a virtual staff today,” Wold said. “No headquarters. They are all traveling, and that mindset helps big time. We define goals for the organization to absolutely be out there.”
During his talk, Wold sought to demonstrate the advances in miniaturization by pulling out a Vscan imaging system from his coat pocket, where it hadn’t been visible to audience. The Vscan provides ultrasound images comparable to the refrigerator-sized systems GE manufactured a decade ago but sells for $7,000 versus $300,000 for the larger system.
That might seem like it would be an easy sell to any healthcare system but it wasn’t.
“With this product, the Vscan, the adoption rates in the developed markets were not good at all,” Wold recalled. “Even though we know it’s a fantastic triage and save lots of costs at every institution if they used it in the right way, there were a lot of barriers when it comes to the healthcare system how the incentives work and so forth.”
But GE has sold 10,000 systems in Africa alone. The mobility and size make it a “great tool for triaging” in regions that don’t have traditional hospitals or even physicians or nurses.
“In Africa and other places, they give it to the midwife and health community worker,” where they can use the imaging to check on the health of an expectant mother or unborn baby.
Even if healthcare workers in these regions are not trained to evaluate ultrasounds, they have smartphones. “You have to be connected and get experts to read. How do you get expert in the sub-Sahara?” Wold asked. “They are not available, but they all have mobile phones, so that is the next step.”
GE is working with third-party manufacturers to develop applications that can transmit images or guidance. Coupling communications devices with imaging systems creates a whole new paradigm of treatment, he said.
“Hopefully that is going to develop these markets because they really don’t exist today; it’s a real market opportunity for companies,” Wold said.
Tom Salemi is a freelance contributor to MD+DI.
[image courtesy of GE Healthcare]