SonoSite (Bothell, Washington) is launching its next-generation hand-carried ultrasound (US) device, MicroMaxx, which is designed to offer an improvement in image quality over its previous generation device, called Titan.
Even as the launch is under way, the Titan and the company's 180Plus model are being used by U.S. forces on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and for tsunami relief, "to good reviews," Sonosite said.
SonoSite, which launched MicroMaxx last month, has been conducting "road shows" in the U.S. and will do so internationally to promote its point-of-care US technology, which weighs about 8 pounds, compared to the conventional US cart weighing more than 200 pounds.
The MicroMaxx system, a 128-channel beamformer which is the "complex front end" of a US system, the company said is integrated into four postage-stamp sized Application Specific Integrated Circuit chips, something that typically requires several circuit boards in larger systems.
The company's devices rely on technology called Chip Fusion, which SonoSite said integrates digital signal processing and multiple ultrasound functions into a custom (ASIC) microchip. It is designed to allow for high performance US in a hand-held unit, while reducing space, weight and power requirements.
The MicroMax can be ready for scanning in seconds and can operate on battery power for up to four hours.
"I think the main driver behind MicroMaxx was really to look what we call core performance, or superior core performance in a . . . 7.5-pound package," Jeremy Wiggins, global unit director, told Diagnostics & Imaging Week. "When I say core performance, I really mean 2-D imaging, color-flow Doppler and spectral Doppler. The key modes that are needed to perform an exam, whether you're doing a radiological exam or a cardiology exam, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, etc."
Wiggins said that with MicroMaxx, SonoSite introduced a phased array transducer, which hasn't been on its previous products. He said that it is going to be an "excellent" transducer for emergency medicine, replacing a curved array probe used for cardiac imaging.
"You can use this one transducer to look at abdominal trauma and easily move right up to the heart and have stellar cardiac imaging with that same transducer," said Wiggins.
Among the major advantages of hand-held ultrasound are its light weight and size comparable to a laptop computer, as opposed to a cart version, he noted, a feature that the company continually cites to differentiate itself in the ultrasound sector.
"The MicroMaxx represents the technology crossover point between hand-carried and cart-based systems," said Kevin Goodwin, president and CEO. "With this new combination of performance and portability, the MicroMaxx system addresses traditional ultrasound markets such as radiology and cardiology, while further expanding the utility of US in areas such as emergency medicine, anesthesiology and surgery. Use of the MicroMaxx system promises to benefit patients by delivering high performance US at less cost, which the company says translates to "more accurate diagnoses and the initiation of treatment more quickly."
Mike Schuh, Sonosite CFO, said that the company has "seen a lot of action" with the hand-held units for anesthesiology, in terms not only with intravenous line placements, but also with "nerve blocks." Its use is also expanding into the physician office, where breast surgeons are now diagnosing breast lesions rather than referring female patients to the radiologist.
MicroMaxx and its transducers are also designed to withstand being dropped from three feet and continuing to function. SonoSite offers a five-year warranty on its product, a function of the company's standing behind its ruggedness, Wiggins said.
"We want to put our money where our mouth is," he added. "We talk about the reliability of our product, but no one in the industry has offered a five-year warranty, until now." He said the five-year warranty is going to be valuable in marketing the product, especially to "price-sensitive customers."
The price of a cart US device can range from the lower end models at about $70,000 to premium products over $150,000, he said. MicroMaxx will be priced below those numbers.
In terms of the ruggedness and expanded uses of its hand-held systems beyond prenatal applications, SonoSite's products are going through "real world" testing in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones, as well as in tsunami relief in Indonesia.
And Wiggins said that the company has been receiving reports that it is "easy to use, it's reliable and it has the performance that's necessary."
Hand-held US is especially necessary "in precarious settings," said Schuh, where quick decisions are needed and facilities limited.
"It's a modality that's about the only one you could have in that environment, because it's mobile [and] it's small," said Schuh, noting that the hand-held US devices are "highly useful" when looking for internal bleeding. It is also highly useful "in terms of getting patient during that golden hour to be assessed very quickly and then taking the action that's needed."
The company is coming off a first quarter in which it saw sales increase 44%, with U.S. revenue growing 34% and international coming in at 54%. And instead of reporting a 7-cent loss according to consensus, it reported a 5 cent gain in earnings per share for the quarter.
SonoSite says that it sells about two-thirds of all hand-carried ultrasound devices, followed by GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin), with a 25% share.