Evaluation Background: Tablet-Style Point-of-Care Ultrasound Scanners

February 26, 2020 | Evaluations & Guidance


Here's background for our Evaluations of tablet-style point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) scanners, outlining the key considerations for making wise purchasing decisions. Learn how the technology is used, which specs are important, and what factors we test for. Also review our latest product ratings and ECRI Institute's data describing hospitals' interest in each vendor.

Diagnostic ultrasound scanners use high-frequency sound waves to acquire images and other data used to assess anatomy and physiology. Some ultrasound scanners, known as POCUS scanners, are designed to be used by a treating clinician as opposed to the patient being referred to an imaging specialist. A POCUS exam is typically performed to answer a specific clinical question such as "Does the patient have internal bleeding?" POCUS is also used to guide interventional procedures such as therapeutic injection of medications or diagnostic biopsies. POCUS is the most rapidly growing segment of the ultrasound market.

The emergence of tablet-style POCUS scanners has followed the introduction and popularity of touchscreen user interfaces on personal tablet computers. Tablet-style POCUS scanners have been available for several years; recent advances have enhanced use of the scanners for POCUS applications. Manufacturers continue to improve B-mode image quality and Doppler sensitivity to detect blood flow, and continue to add advanced features designed specifically for use at the point of care, which help with data acquisition and analysis. Recent advances in technology have led to the introduction of automated data acquisition and analysis features that can be particularly valuable in time-critical assessments such as those in a trauma setting, and can enhance consistency between users.

Tablet-style POCUS scanners are a type of portable scanner—a category that ECRI Institute defines as scanners not permanently attached to a wheeled stand (although portable scanners can be placed on stands). Other types of portable ultrasound scanners include laptop-style scanners and handheld scanners. Laptop-style scanners (sometimes referred to as clamshell-style scanners), as the name suggests, take the form of a laptop computer. Handheld scanners use transducers that connect via a cable or wirelessly to a user-supplied tablet computer or smartphone that has a proprietary software application and serves as the data display and user interface.

The major components of a tablet-style POCUS scanner are:

  1. A portable, tablet-style ultrasound scanner that has a combined video data display/touchscreen user interface, which is used to adjust imaging parameters, annotate images, and archive images. The scanner has ports for connecting transducers, and other ports such as USB and HDMI to allow data import and export. The scanners can be hand carried, placed on a table during use, attached to wheeled stands to enhance transportability, or placed on a wall mount for zero-footprint convenience. They can be battery operated or connected to mains power.

  2. A variety of optional application-specific transducers...

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