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Most Canadians have long associated ultrasound with pregnancy; those precious first images of fingers and toes on a fetus captured with a cart-based system. Today, a growing number of patients share an appreciation for the power of hand-held ultrasound carried in the pocket of their physicians because it has improved their care, and for some, helped save their lives.

Since it’s invention in 1956 by an obstetrician and engineer in Glasgow, Scotland, ultrasound technology has evolved into an indispensable tool to examine almost any part of a patient’s body for a fast diagnosis and to help physicians pinpoint injectable drug delivery sites.

At first, ultrasound machines were bulky and expensive and often not available in smaller health-care facilities and rural clinics. While portable ultrasound machines have been commonly used in hospitals since about 1975, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that battery-powered, pocket-sized devices became available – and Canada has been at the forefront of their development.

In Vancouver, B.C., for example, the founders of Clarius Mobile Health pioneered some of the key breakthroughs in ultrasound over the past 20 years including the PC-based platform for ultrasound research and the first touchscreen ultrasound system with a simplified user interface.

Clarius CEO Laurent Pelissier says the company had three clear goals: to deliver an ultra-portable system for medical professionals that does not compromise on image quality; to remove the cords that get in the way; and to combine iOS and Android app-design with the power of AI and Cloud to make ultrasound easier to use.

Based on the company’s success so far, the strategy is working.

“Since we sold our first wireless hand-held ultrasound scanner in December 2016, we have become a global leader, notching up one and a half million scanning sessions through more than 39,000 user accounts,” says Mr. Pelissier. “Our next-generation product is smaller and offers even better performance thanks to feedback from our customers and advancing technology.”

He points out that as many as 25 million medical professionals globally do not have access to medical imaging, which is a proven tool to improve patient care and reduce health-care costs.

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Dr. Oron Frenkel (top) and Laurent Pelissier (bottom) see hand-held ultrasound scanners as game-changers in the way patients’ ailments are diagnosed and treated.Supplied

“As pioneers in miniaturizing ultrasound, we’re on a mission to make medical imaging accessible everywhere by delivering high-performance, affordable and easy-to-use solutions with the power of artificial intelligence. We’re miniaturizing high-quality point-of-care ultrasound to offer safe and cost-effective options for clinicians in every specialty,” says Mr. Pelissier.

Dr. Oron Frenkel, an emergency physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and chairman of the Clarius medical advisory board, has been a passionate advocate of point-of-care ultrasound for more than a decade and spends much of his time educating colleagues in the medical profession on how best to use the technology.

He believes point-of-care ultrasound can be used for diagnosing conditions in almost every part of the body by clinicians across specialties.

“You name it, we can put an ultrasound on it and look at it specifically and get quick answers in a mobile environment,” says Dr. Frenkel. “Honestly, nothing’s been this disruptive for the clinical encounter of health-care workers and their patients since the invention of the stethoscope, which was over 200 years ago.”

He says a Canadian patient today might encounter Clarius ultrasound in a variety of clinical settings.

“For example, if you suffer from knee pain and degenerative joint disease, your orthopedic surgeon, instead of injecting blind, may use the Clarius L15 HD to accurately guide her hyaluronic acid injection,” says Dr. Frenkel. “Clear visualization of the needle and knee joint space means a safe, painless and effective treatment. Or, for someone who presents with sudden but vague back pain, the emergency physician or their GP may use the Clarius C3 HD to perform a lifesaving aortic exam, identifying an aneurysm in minutes and immediately transferring the patient to the operating room.”

Earlier this year, Clarius updated its Ultrasound App to enable the company’s wireless ultrasound systems to use artificial intelligence to automatically detect body anatomy being scanned by clinicians – the first commercially available application of its type in Canada.

The company is also a partner in the Intelligent Network for Point-of-Care Ultrasound project through Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster. This project teams up Clarius, Providence Health Care, Change Healthcare, the University of British Columbia and the Rural Coordination Centre of BC to accelerate the creation of an integrated point-of-care ultrasound network that can deliver faster, more accurate diagnoses to patients in rural and remote areas such as Nelson and Haida Gwaii.

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Member of Canada’s Industry Strategy Council, CEO and partner, Quark Venture LP
Source: 2020 Industry Strategy Council report: Building a Sustainable, Digital and Innovative Economy

Using the Clarius Live telemedicine feature, the project connects specialists with doctors in remote and rural locations who use the intelligent network technology to upload images and get remote second opinions to help with diagnoses no matter where they are.

In addition to eliminating the discrepancy between the quality of health care in rural and urban areas, Mr. Pelissier says the Intelligent Network for Point-of-Care Ultrasound also saves costs for both the health system and for individuals.

“For example, it costs about $20,000 to transfer a patient from a rural location to an urban centre for urgent diagnostic imaging. For non-urgent ultrasound scans, especially first-trimester obstetric ultrasound exams, patients themselves are out of pocket when they have to travel, often for hours, by ferry or by car,” he says.

Establishing this network is supporting Canada’s overall efforts to lead the development of integrated, point-of-care diagnostics while improving health-care delivery and outcomes for all Canadians, adds Mr. Pelissier.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.