Ultrasounds are a huge milestone for a mother-to-be. It is a health check-up, a confusing picture, but most importantly a first chance to see the child with whom one will spend the rest of their life. It is also a huge hassle. In today’s age of overcrowded hospitals, highly infectious diseases and general uncertainty, just scheduling an appointment can be an ordeal. What if one didn’t have to?
MIT has just published a paper promising a revolution in the field of ultrasound imaging, not just for expectant mothers but for diagnostics as a whole. The researchers have developed a set of 48-hour stickers that when applied to the body can give continuous ultrasound imaging of the body. Unfortunately, this currently needs to be connected to a huge ultrasonic imaging machine to get pictures, but the team is working on artificial intelligence (AI) tool that allows these stickers to communicate directly to a user’s phone instead.
Depending how this technology develops, this could be a game-changer in several fields of medical devices. Not only does this provide a smaller, more compact method of ultrasound imaging, but if these stickers could be packaged and sent to remote locations, a doctor could perform an ultrasound screening of a patient from thousands of miles away. This would make diagnostics of organ health, disease, or pregnancy much more accessible in the world of remote patient monitoring (RPM).
Investors will be chomping at the bit to see the results and efficacy of clinical trials coming out in the future. The results of these trials will determine whether these stickers can revolutionize healthcare. Currently, this technology sits in the intersection of two dynamic fields in healthcare: RPM and diagnostic imaging. The RPM and diagnostic imaging markets are some of healthcare’s largest markets, and GlobalData estimated 2022 market sizes of $11.0m and $30.3m, with expected growth of 3.4% and 4.8%, respectively. With the advent of Covid-19, the usefulness of RPM has been made clear and GlobalData expects its growth to skyrocket in coming years with renewed government reimbursement support.
Should the ultrasound technology prove to be cheap and portable enough, it could cannibalize a significant portion of both of these technologies, but it could also carve out its own new, sizable niche. Currently, one of the largest untapped patient populations is those living in remote areas. These patients will often live very far from the nearest hospital. However, their medical needs are no less diverse, and the closest specialized hospital could be hundreds of miles away. This technology could counteract this setback. By being able to mail these diagnostic stickers to patients in remote areas, healthcare professionals could conduct diagnostic images ranging from pregnancy ultrasounds to checking organ health to looking for cancerous tumours. This opens up a huge range of possibilities in the diagnostic space and thus, a large potential market.