Pocket ultrasound: a new era of medical imaging

Charlotte Edwards 16 April 2019 (Last Updated April 16th, 2019 17:40)

US-based tech company Butterfly has produced a portable, pocket-sized ultrasound scanner that plugs into an iPhone and can be controlled using an app. Butterfly Network president Gioel Molinari explains more about the scanner and its potential impact on healthcare.

Pocket ultrasound: a new era of medical imaging
The pocket-sized ultrasound scanner plugs into an iPhone and can be controlled using an app. Credit: Butterfly Network

Charlotte Edwards: Can you explain how the portable ultrasound scanner works?

Gioel Molinari: Butterfly iQ is the first ever handheld whole-body ultrasound system. It replaces expensive and fragile piezo crystals used in traditional systems with a single silicon chip. The chip can emit all three types of ultrasonic waves required to capture specific imaging depths and frequencies to view different parts of the whole body.

Butterfly uses a mobile app that provides real-time AI interpretation and ultrasound imaging. Butterfly iQ allows medical professionals to better detect and treat diseases discovered via ultrasound. Users also have access to a HIPAA-compliant cloud platform that connects medical professionals from around the world so they can receive up-to-date diagnoses and collaborative insights on complicated diseases.

An analogy that can be easy to understand is that Butterfly iQ is like a digital camera to see inside the body. Similar manufacturing technology and benefits of performance, cost, and ease of use.

CE: Who can use the device?

GM: Currently, any qualified healthcare provider in the United States can use the device. This includes doctors, paramedics, and nurses, among other medical professionals. That being said, one of our goals is to make medical imaging as accessible as a stethoscope, ushering in a new era of healthcare.

CE: What medical conditions will the device help to treat?

GM: Ultrasound can play a role in almost every human health condition. Butterfly is treating patients with various medical conditions and helping doctors diagnose patients earlier. Butterfly iQ can also help with monitoring chronic conditions. For example, the daughter of our founder and CEO, Dr Jonathan Rothberg, has a form of tuberous sclerosis that requires high-frequency ultrasound to treat the tumours and cysts on her kidneys caused by the disease. Now with Butterfly iQ, the device saves time for both doctors and patients alike.

CE: What impact do you think the device will have on the healthcare industry?

GM: Butterfly is a mission-driven company with a core goal of democratising healthcare by making medical imaging accessible and affordable to everyone. Ultrasound is one of two essential medical imaging modalities, and the most widely used diagnostic imaging modality. However, price and difficulty of use are barriers that prevent access to ultrasound, with approximately 4.7 billion people unable to obtain medical imaging. By putting ultrasound on a chip and creating an integrated software platform that allows for intuitive collaboration between healthcare professionals, including those in the most remote areas of the world, Butterfly iQ is paving the way for early detection and remote diagnosis of health issues around the world.

CE: What’s next for Butterfly?

GM: Over the next year, we are continuing to expand and implement new technologies that will make Butterfly iQ easier to use. In the near future, Butterfly will offer tele-guidance capabilities that fuse traditional telemedicine, ultrasound imaging and augmented reality to make it easier for users to capture the best images for analysis. These advancements will help reduce the complexity of ultrasound and allow more medical professionals to utilise medical imaging in their care.