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Web 2.0 Summit: GE Introduces Handheld Ultrasound Device

CEO Jeff Immelt showed off a forthcoming medical device called Vscan that promises to shake up the world of medical imaging.

If you had any doubts that the future belongs to mobile network-capable devices, look no further than General Electric.

At the Web 2.0 Summit on Tuesday, GE CEO Jeff Immelt showed off a forthcoming hand-held ultrasound device called Vscan, calling it "the stethoscope of the 21st century."

The device, which features a clam-shell design, with a small screen on one side and a circular input pad on the other, accepts a cable terminated in an ultrasound sensor. It could easily be mistaken for a cell phone.

Immelt didn't provide any pricing information. He described the device as being digitally capable, despite it's lack of WiFi connectivity.

The fact that GE, which sells multimillion dollar medical scanners, wants to participate in the market for far less expensive portable devices lends credence to view -- advanced by others at the conference -- that the mobile market is full of promise.

GE said that Vscan will improve the quality of healthcare by allowing physicians to more quickly and accurately diagnose patients. It should help primary care doctors gauge the necessity of more thorough testing and give critical care workers an additional tool to diagnose patients in the field.

In conjunction with the Vscan announcement, GE that it has developed a new computerized decision support system for physicians -- an IT infrastructure to help caregivers do their work -- to improve care and reduce costs. The system will be tested in November at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. GE plans a more detailed announcement at the March meeting of the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society.

What's intriguing about the Vscan is the possibility that medical technology, as it becomes more portable, will be useful in the hands of people without advanced medical training. That's not to say a patient would ever want to try to read his or her own ultrasound images, but it's not hard to imagine how the miniaturization of medical devices could lead to, say, an iPhone scanning attachment and the submission of patient-generated imaging to medical professionals.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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