Compact Echo Systems Come Up Big in Cardiac Care

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon
  Color-flow Doppler image of the left ventricle taken from a GE Healthcare Vivid-i compact ultrasound unit. Source: Richard Milani, MD, director of noninvasive laboratories at Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.

Smaller units offer improved workflow and productivity for pennies on the dollar compared to their larger cousins

Ultrasound usage in cardiology has been a market historically dominated by larger, cart-based systems, which offered more power and rapid processing and visualization over earlier generations of smaller, more portable units. Over the last few years, however, the cardiac ultrasound market has started to shift, churning out increasingly compact yet powerful machines, with an inexpensive price differential compared to the more traditional systems.

The miniaturization of cardiac ultrasound equipment has evolved from catheter-tipped transducers for transesophageal, intravascular and intracardiac echocardiography to small full-featured ultrasound machines to compact devices no bigger than many laptop computers. The evolution continues, as manufacturers seek more ways to improve the technology of compact echoes, making them more accessible, affordable, portable and powerful, holding the promise to improve productivity and efficiency, as well as maintain a healthy bottom line.

“We have seen a trend toward miniaturization, but with more sophisticated systems that are penetrating the market quickly,” says Ravindra Sharma, analyst with Millennium Research Group (MRG). For example, the cardiac ultrasound market is set to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 5.1 percent from 2008 to 2012, and the overall sales for the total cardiac ultrasound market are expected to be $450 million in the U.S.

“We also think that the procedure volumes for cardiovascular ultrasound are increasing, driven by an aging population and the prevalence of risk factors like obesity and diabetes, as well as an increased awareness in the general population about cardiovascular diseases,” Sharma adds.

As the Baby Boomer generation reaches its golden years—almost 60 million Baby Boomers will be over 65 by 2031—its members also will reach the peak of their cardiovascular care years, and cardiology is looking for ways to deliver better, faster care at a patient’s bedside. Cardiovascular information system (CVIS) investments enable anywhere, anytime access to healthcare data, which is critical to improving productivity and workflow. It’s also critical to invest in devices that enable cardiologists to obtain critical cardiac data faster and more efficiently, ultimately leading to better patient care.

Bells and whistles

Choosing a compact echo system, and choosing among the various enhancements and features, can be challenging and often depends on the clinical needs of the business. The technology continues to improve for compact echo systems. Better transducers improve penetration in difficult-to-image patients and reduce acoustic noise, so clinicians can view structures in finer detail. Adaptive image processing, as well, helps reduce noise and improve clarity and edge definition.

From a laptop, clinicians can now obtain real-time 2D, 3D and 4D imaging, as well as Doppler data during semi-invasive or invasive procedures, including transthoracic and intracardiac echo, transesophogeal echo (TEE), carotid artery and saphenous vein evaluation, dobutamine stress echo, tissue velocity imaging and intima-media thickness measurements.

Taking the lab to the in- & outpatient

The adoption of hand-carried ultrasound units in cardiology was approximately 6 to 8 percent in unit growth sales in 2008, according to MRG. It is expected to increase to 12 to 16 percent in the next few years, driven by economics, mobility and footprint advantages. With at least a 30 or 40 percent price differential from the larger, traditional units, cost can be a factor in determining whether to purchase a compact echo system.

For some like Richard V. Milani, MD, director of noninvasive laboratories at Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, cost isn’t the key factor in choosing a compact unit. “The question really is about maneuverability and getting close enough to patients, especially in the ICU setting, which is replete with machines and ventilators. It can be a daunting task to pull off,” Milani says.

Projected Growth of Compact Echo  
Hand-carried ultrasound adoption in cardiology was approximately 6 to 8 percent in unit growth sales in 2008 and is expected