Dr. Nils Petter Oveland remembers his epiphany about handheld ultrasound like it was yesterday. Back in 2018, the Norwegian clinician was in Haiti on a three-month mission to train local medics. He was astonished to see that the Caribbean country had almost no functioning imaging equipment. “There was only one [operational and public] CT machine in all of Haiti,”  says Oveland. “In one hospital they had an X-ray machine, but they couldn’t plug that in because the electricity would break down.”
Fortunately, Oveland and his colleagues had packed their handheld ultrasound devices, pocket-sized quick-insight tools that bring internal visualization to the physical exam. Oveland’s team of clinicians fanned out across Haiti’s hospital wards with their handy handheld scanners, empowered to make clinical decisions while on the move. “That was a real eye opener,” says Oveland, who also heads up research and development at the Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation. “I knew then that handheld ultrasound was the way to go if doctors were going to reach the masses.”
Barely two years have passed since Oveland’s trip to Haiti, and his instinct has been confirmed. Handheld ultrasound devices are spreading fast, evolving technologically, and reaching into clinical settings that were previously difficult. For instance, clinicians in over 100 countries are using Vscan family technology, improving the care of 50 million patients to date. Now, GE Healthcare has launched the next generation of the device: the Vscan Air™. Like previous models, the latest Vscan system is portable, includes a dual-probe and has intuitive software; but in a technological leap forward, the Vscan Air is also completely wireless, secures patient data on the device rather than the cloud, and wields extra processing power, which means that it delivers crystal clear images.
It’s good news for clinicians and their patients, whether they are emergency room doctors triaging COVID-19 patients, healthcare providers in Haiti obtaining images of babies in utero, or, like Oveland, Scandinavian medics investigating a possible collapsed lung high above the freezing fjords.* Clinicians who were part of the early clinical evaluation program for the Vscan Air say the enhancements will bring ease of use, enable fast and accurate clinical insights, and ultimately, help clinicians improved patient outcomes. Primary care providers who have leveraged the technology in and outside of the hospital have found it particularly useful, describing using the technology as having “eyes inside of the patient” and “stepping into the future.”
Pioneering a new era of handheld ultrasound
Handheld color ultrasound, which consists of an ultrasound probe connected to a handheld unit with a screen the size of a smartphone, first entered the market in 2010 with GE Healthcare’s Vscan. Since then, the Vscan family has evolved over time to include user-friendly features including dual-probe technology that allows for deep and shallow scanning and an AI-enhanced tool that calculates ejection fraction, the amount of blood exiting the heart each time the muscle contracts, in just seconds, helpful for clinicians evaluating such conditions as heart muscle weakness or heart valve problems.
But the new Vscan Air takes this utility one step further, because there is not a cable in sight. “I love the fact it is completely wireless,” says Oveland. “It was also really easy to set up — you just download the app, and press the button to connect it.” The ability to obtain high-quality ultrasound images without a tangle of cables is crucial for Oveland, who often finds himself treating patients in a noisy, cramped and turbulent helicopter cabin. “Even when there is turbulence, you always need that one image that can tell you what’s wrong with a patient,” he says.
Its handy size turns the helicopter cabin into a flying exam room.* “You just flip it out of your breast pocket and start using it to get the images and information you want,” says Oveland. He explains that around 70% of patients who travel in Norway’s airborne ambulances are medical emergencies, such as cardiac arrest, with the other 30% being trauma-related cases. “Vscan Air is excellent for both,” he says. “For trauma we can use the FAST [Focused assessment with sonography in trauma] exam, and we have the ‘FoCus’ echo [procedure] for cardiac arrests,” he adds. A high-quality image also allows him to confidently rule out emergencies, which saves the patient an uncomfortable chopper ride to Stavanger’s hospital. For example, he might find gallstones in a patient complaining of abdominal pain, which doesn’t usually require an urgent intervention.
The dual-probe technology also allows medics to easily switch between transducers with just a quick flip of the probe, rather than having to switch out probes mid-exam. For example, clinicians might choose the higher-frequency component that is optimized for shallow anatomy, such as veins. “That is great for vascular access,” says Oveland, explaining that the quick scan shows medical staff exactly where to insert an IV needle. “Patients will always tell you how painful it is to be punctured five or six times when they go to hospital,” he adds. “I tell them, ‘I will hit it right on the first time.’ ”
Looking ahead, Oveland believes that the portability of devices such as Vscan Air is not just a boon for roving clinicians, but a game changer for medicine. That’s because the ability to carry an ultrasound machine in a pocket could turn the technology into an everyday clinical tool, rather than the preserve of specialized branches of medicine such as obstetrics and cardiology. “I want doctors and medical students to understand how powerful this tool is,” he says.
*The device has been verified for limited use outside of professional healthcare facilities. Use is restricted to environmental properties described in the user manual. Please contact your GE Healthcare sales representative for detailed information.
GE, the GE monogram, Vscan Air, Vscan, and Vscan Extend are trademarks of the General Electric Company. Products mentioned in the material may be subject to government regulation and may not be available in all countries. Shipment and the effective sale can only occur after approval from the regulator. Please check with your local GE Healthcare representative for details.
 RAD-AID, Latin American and the Caribbean — https://rad-aid.org/countries/latin-america-and-the-caribbean/haiti/