In the future, a midwife could do an ultrasound of a high-risk pregnancy in the comfort of the mother’s home, a doctor with a backpack could examine entire refugee camps, or emergency services could diagnose trauma patients at an accident scene. It’s all possible with portable ultrasound machines. It’s peak technological performance. That’s why The Medical Futurist got thrilled when Philips sent us their Lumify system for testing. Check out our Philips Lumify portable ultrasound review below.

Portable ultrasounds are the future

Looking at the evolution of diagnostic devices, it becomes apparent that they follow a general design trend where articles for personal use become more and more miniaturized, digitized and connected. While in the past, the ultimate goal of medical tools was to somehow measure health parameters and vital signs and to record measurements. Currently, the question is how to measure more accurately and in a more patient-friendly way – even in low-resource regions, remote areas or emergencies.

Design underpins these goals. At the time when Dr. Karl Theodore Dussik worked on transmission ultrasound investigation of the brain in Austria in 1942, the instruments took up almost the space of an entire room. The use of the technology began shortly after the Second World War, while the rapid advancement of ultrasound can be observed from the 1960s onwards – from still to real-time moving images and from bistable to greyscale. The size of the device gradually decreased, and its movability improved. The first portable ultrasound machines appeared in the 2000s, and their performance is getting better year by year. Moreover, the iStore now has a telesonography app, and NASA has developed a virtual guidance program for non-sonographers to perform ultrasounds in space.

Beyond the ultrasound, many more diagnostic devices have turned into palm-sized gadgets, for example, the Viatom Checkme Pro, the closest tool to the medical tricorder, or the Clinicloud and the Eko Core both replacing the traditional stethoscope, but let’s see whether the Philips Lumify could deliver its promises to successfully turn our smartphones and tablets into ultrasound machines.

portable ultrasound review
Douglas Howry, William Bliss, and Gerald Posakony created the immersion tank ultrasound system which was the first B mode linear scanner in 1951. Source:

Philips Lumify – Unboxing and consultation with experts

The streamlined and aptly designed portable ultrasound machine comes with various accessories. When Dr. Meskó unboxed the Philips Lumify, he found three different transducers and cables, a Samsung tablet and power cord, a tablet case and a carry bag. Besides, Philips offers the Reacts tele-ultrasound platform, a third-party service, and 5-year warranty. Although if you don’t need all the three transducers, the package is customizable.

Before he started to use the device, he consulted several ultrasound imaging specialists what to look for. Dr. Dávid László Tárnoki, a radiologist at Semmelweis University, told The Medical Futurist that the following factors should be taken into account when assessing the machine: its size, portability, user-friendliness and imaging ability. The latter refers to the resolution of the ultrasound image and whether the imaging performance reaches that of a regular ultrasound device. Thus, we kept in mind these factors as guidelines for our review.

Usage as easy as apple pie

Or, in fact, in many ways it’s easier – there are significantly fewer ingredients to mix in and procedures to carry out to utilize the power of the portable ultrasound. You just plug any of the three transducers into your Android device through a simple USB connection – or use the Samsung tablet -, download the Lumify app, and you’re all set. That’s all. Now, isn’t that astonishing?

However, before plugging in any transducer, it is worth noting what’s the difference between the three. The broadband sector array carries out high-resolution imaging for abdominal and cardiac areas, lungs, but it’s also applicable for gynecological exams. The curved array transducer offers high-resolution imaging for more in-depth applications: abdominal, gall bladder, OB/GYN, and lung imaging, while the linear array transducer can examine among others soft tissues, vascular, superficial, musculoskeletal areas. All the three come with a wide frequency range.

For example, if you want to carry out an abdominal ultrasound, you should rather choose the curved array transducer. After you plugged in the device, the application detects it literally within seconds and lets the user select the exam type to perform.

The Lumify app estimates gestational age

Here comes the Lumify app into the picture. The interface is straightforward and quite intuitive, so not only assistants but even patients could use it too, and then submit the results to professionals for review.

While you might wonder what features besides zoom or scrolling up and down could a real-life imaging app possibly have, there are quite a few useful items on the list. For example, you can freeze, capture and save images for your patients and get those into their medical records. There is the possibility to annotate the files or measure distances and circumferences. When doing a pregnancy scan, the Lumify app is able to calculate estimated gestational age and fetal weight. In M-mode, you can learn about the movement of an area of anatomy and also calculate fetal heart rate.

Moreover, the app lets you create individual profiles for the patients, and keep a local record of patient files, which you can securely share with concerned professionals for advice, for example. Philips stores data in the cloud safely and in a HIPAA compliant manner. There is also an option to import medical records with the help of patient barcodes.

The Reacts platform connects professionals and patients

Philips teamed up with Reacts (Remote Education, Augmented Communication, Training, and Supervision), a secure, integrated, collaborative platform to share ultrasound images and ask for consultations. Luke Baldwin, Product Marketing Manager at Philips told The Medical Futurist that the third-party program is also HIPAA compliant, and it’s very secure – data theft and hacking are out of the question.

Moreover, there is a pointer function in the app. If the user activates the pointer, he or she could explain a specific area of the image better during a consultation. It could come in very handy in complex cases or ambiguous masses and lesions.

Downsides: price, price and perhaps its price

Although the Philips Lumify portable ultrasound caused a technological sublime to the entire Medical Futurist team – we could see our intestines in a living room! -, it has a considerable downside. Its price. Baldwin told Dr. Meskó that Philips offers three pricing schemes. In the first case, users can borrow the transducer for a monthly, and both the Reacts platform and the app will be deactivated if the customer forgets to pay. This option is only available in the US.

The second scenario is settling the entire sum as a one time fee of around $8,000, but the final price depends on the country where it will be shipped, on the distributor as well as the type of institution that will receive the Lumify. The third option comprises of a five-year-long payment plan. It means that you pay a fixed sum every month and in the end, you will get your own device – this is Philips Lumify’s response to commodity credit.

Still, the technology remains too expensive for those groups who might be the most interested in using portable ultrasounds: remote communities, low-resource regions without infrastructure, emergency services, medical teaching facilities or NGOs dealing with refugees such as Médecins Sans Frontieres.

portable ultrasound review

All-in-all, the Philips Lumify embodies almost everything digital health stands for: the device makes patients the point-of-care, it makes diagnostics more efficient and delivers help wherever it’s necessary. However, it’s price compels me not to say it’s disruptive. We hope that in the future, the same will happen in this area as it did with the fall in the price of genetic testing.

Nevertheless, Baldwin said they are already present in many regions and countries, for example, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya or India, and want the model and the platform globally available in the next 2-3 years, while constantly developing the software.

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