Startup sells high-quality low-cost ultrasound

By Rosie Lombardi

Dave WilllisA Vancouver-based startup is set to offer high-quality but affordable medical ultrasound devices at the end of 2016. Clarius was started up in 2014 by an ultrasound engineer and a sonographer who’d worked at big mainstream companies for years. “We asked ourselves, what does the world really need in ultrasound? All the physicians we talked to over the years said they’d love to have multiple ultrasound devices available to them. So that’s the idea that we based our new company on,” says Dave Willis (pictured), co-founder of Clarius.

The demand for ultrasound equipment outstrips the capacity of most hospital budgets, says Willis.

“Doctors like the idea of having one machine in every trauma bay in the emergency department or anesthesia to have one in every block room to do nerve blocks. The problem is, even at $35,000 for smaller laptop-style equipment, it’s still not affordable by most hospitals for the volume they’d need ideally. These big departments may have 30 doctors fighting over two ultrasound machines to do their procedures.”

The Clarius team set out to develop high-quality ultrasound equipment at a more affordable price. They achieved this by making a radical design change: they re-engineered the components so that any existing device that doctors already have could be used in Clarius’ new ultrasound system.

“We did this by leveraging commercial products like tablets or smartphones as the viewing device and user interface. But we all know how quickly those things change in the marketplace – you buy a tablet and two years later it’s obsolete, and we really didn’t want our system to be tethered by a cable to a device. We wanted something that would run on any platform and the only way to really do that was to go wireless so that we don’t tie the two devices tightly together.”

Clarius has essentially designed a system with two components: a handheld wireless scanner provided by Clarius that transmits its image, and a mobile device provided by the user to capture, review and store the image.

The company is set to launch three new ultrasound systems later this year. “One is basically an abdominal curved array that will fit nicely in obstetrics and abdominal scanning. We also have a linear array scanner that’ll do superficial imaging, small parts, and nerve blocks for anesthesia. Lastly, we have a very small footprint transducer for pediatric work and small animal veterinarian services.”

The image quality of Clarius ultrasound is on par with far more expensive systems. “We set an image bar: we compared it to a $70,000 ultrasound machine and our image quality is comparable. That was the goal.”

Clarius recently filed for FDA and Health Canada approval of its devices, and the approval process is typically about three months for low-risk medical devices such as ultrasound.

“We just filed for approval so we’re not putting pricing out there until we get approval. But we want to price it so physicians will be able to buy several Clarius ultrasound systems for what they would typically pay for just one laptop-style point-of-care device so more doctors have access.”

This dramatic price drop opens the door to doctors buying mobile ultrasound devices for themselves and bypassing hospital bureaucracy altogether.

“Many physicians worked with us when we were developing our ultrasound systems. At our price point, they say it’s the first time they’ve considered getting one. They said, ‘I can see buying this myself as a personal device, even if I can’t get it through the hospital.”

This approach may actually wind up creating a more rational approach to ultrasound usage for high-volume practices. “A lot of these physicians go between the hospital and a clinic and they just find it very helpful to have their own device to go between both. In fact, it can save money because they only need one. They don’t have to have one in each place.”

Willis says Clarius’ ultrasound systems will be available for purchase very soon. “We’re hoping in the fall that we’ll be fully approved and shipping. We’re expecting significant uptake in strong established markets like emergency medicine, sports medicine and anesthesia, where high-image quality in a very affordable package is needed and it just hasn’t been available. And we’re also targeting developing countries that have good mobile infrastructure.”

For more information, visit https://www.clarius.me/

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