The Butterfly effect: How a silicon chip is easing ultrasound access – Med-Tech Innovation | Latest news for the medical device industry

Ian Bolland spoke to Dr John Martin, chief medical officer of Butterfly Network about its new Butterfly iQ device – a single-probe whole body ultrasound system.

The device is intended to fit into a doctor’s pocket as they go about their work. Instead of using piezo crystals used by other ultrasound systems, this uses a single silicon chip to do the same job – costing £1,699 per unit – a 50th of the cost of existing ultrasound systems.

Explaining the difference between the two types of ultrasound technology, Dr Martin said: “Using the crystal is a very cumbersome and expensive process, and because of the characteristics of their characteristics, you have to have a different probe for different parts of the body. We’re changing that dramatically by putting ultrasound on a silicon chip and now we can leverage that entire industry and have unprecedented versatility.”

It has received CE marking and FDA approval for use in 13 different areas, namely:

A big part of the project is the aim of democratising ultrasound imaging, by trying to cut out lead time between issuing an ultrasound and eventual treatment.

Dr Martin continues: “With Butterfly you get a diagnosis very quickly, you start treatment very quickly, and I really see it transforming healthcare everywhere.

“I think we all know in medicine how powerful imaging can be in answering clinical questions when we don’t know what’s going on with a patient. If you look at the data two thirds of the medical dilemmas are solved with simple imaging – it’s just a matter of getting access to that imaging.”

Early adopters in the UK include the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and Northampton General Hospital. It’s also being used Mater University Hospital (Dublin) and to train doctors in the Irish capital. Doctors at these institutions have described the technology as ‘revolutionary’ and as a ‘game-changer’.

The portable aspect of the technology is seemingly a huge advantage with Dr Martin able to diagnose himself with cancer.

“We were doing our FDA trials and I felt a little fullness in my neck and then realised I had a complete imaging system in my hand. I put the probe up to my neck and diagnosed a metastatic cancer.”

Accompanying the device is a cloud platform with a mobile app supporting the real-time ultrasound imaging. It can connect medical professionals and allow them to receive up-to-date diagnosis and insights on any diseases.

“It’s just a single probe that you can carry around with you. As a doctor I was used to carrying a stethoscope, now I’ll carry an ultrasound probe. It’s so easy to use it plugs right into a smartphone, it leverages the intuitive properties of a phone and this whole generation of people are used to using their smartphones – and if you can use a smartphone you can use a Butterfly.

“The second largest group of physicians purchasing this device in the United States are people in family medicine or GPs because they see the value. They don’t want to send their patients off for tests and wait for the results, they’d like to get the answers to simple questions in their office right away. That’s the most efficient way to deliver care and it’s the most cost-effective way.

“I think the part that makes me so excited is that we realise that so few people have access to this. Two thirds of people in the world don’t have access to medical imaging and we really see that changing. All of us as physicians got into healthcare to help people and here is a chance to, in my own hands, make a diagnosis and share with them what’s wrong with them. That’s why most of us got into medicine, the change in the way we deliver care with this device is palpable.”