The global market for hand-held ultrasound systems is estimated to be worth over $400m, with the devices in demand for point-of-care (POC) treatment throughout the medical field.
However, most POC ultrasound devices can cost upwards of $20,000, a price-tag that can act as a deterrent to sales. Butterfly Network, a diagnostic imaging start-up, has developed an iPhone-compatible ultrasound device with a $2,000 price tag and according to the developers, the equivalent power to a standalone ultrasound system.
The company hopes to revolutionise the imaging market by allowing doctors to have instant access to the powerful diagnostic abilities of an ultrasound. Butterfly Network’s smartphone ultrasound relies on machine learning to aid diagnosis by using AI to detect diseases from ultrasound images.
With a device so powerful and easily accessible, even general practitioners could be trained in providing bedside ultrasound readings, which would drastically improve their diagnostic capabilities. However, the company’s vision doesn’t stop with the doctor’s office. Jonathan Rothberg, the company’s founder, expects that one day, Butterfly Network’s ultrasound will be “as ubiquitous as the household thermometer.”
Portable ultrasound devices are experiencing strong growth globally; however, a household ultrasound would be an entirely different beast. Butterfly Network’s device promises to revolutionise the clinical ultrasound market, but bringing ultrasound devices directly to consumers might be stretching the device’s promise.
The FDA has yet to approve the device for use at home, and ultrasound’s utility to the average person might not be as straightforward as Rothberg believes. It takes a great deal more training to understand the results of ultrasound imaging than the temperature on a thermometer, and household use might lead to unnecessary cancer scares at the hands of untrained users. However, Butterfly Network’s device would be a game changer for the POC ultrasound market.