"There's a smartphone app for that" is pretty much a joke punchline nowadays, with our smartphones being utilized for everything from spotting skin cancers to detecting concussions. The immense power of these small pocket-sized computers is enabling clever engineers to develop a myriad of portable technological devices that, until now, were expensive and large. One such innovation is called the Butterfly iQ, a small ultrasound device that can display clear black-and-white pictures on an iPhone.
Ultrasound technology has evolved rapidly over recent decades and top-tier machines, offering impressively high-resolution images, can easily sell for well over US$100,000. Even at the other end of the spectrum, a second-hand, basic system will set a small medical clinic back $10 to $20,000. Philips, one of the leaders in medical ultrasound devices, launched a small portable scanner recently, costing around $6,000 (or available through a monthly subscription model of $199 per month).
The Butterfly iQ is set to shake up this market even further with its new device selling at under $2,000. This stunningly cheap and accessible price makes the technology available to individual doctors, just another weapon in their diagnostic toolkit that can be slipped into a pocket.
The device is cleared by the FDA for 13 different clinical applications spanning the entire body, from abdominal and gynecological uses to cardiac or urology examinations. It is currently considered a prescription device so it is only available to licensed healthcare practitioners.
John Martin, a vascular surgeon, was testing the Butterfly ultrasound earlier this year and ended up unexpectedly finding a cancer in his own neck. Martin is now, unsurprisingly, one of the Butterfly iQ's most vocal endorsers, suggesting the device can dramatically speed up diagnostic processes that in past have taken weeks or months.
"I felt something funny in my neck, connected the probe to my phone, did an ultrasound and there it was – a tumor," explains Martin.
While the cancer obviously needed further biopsy-based evidence before it was properly diagnosed, the affordability and portability of this Butterfly iQ ultrasound means it can be deployed virtually anywhere quickly and easily. And the extraordinarily affordable price point means small clinics and individual doctors can put it in their diagnostic tool kit, right alongside their stethoscope and thermometer.