Healcerion, based in South Korea, was the first company to receive FDA clearance for a wireless, app-based ultrasound system back in 2015. The groundbreaking work done by South Korean engineers and scientists laid the foundation for the development of an ultrasound transducer that works with most smartphones or tablets. Since introducing the SONON 300C convex transducer, the company has been making progress to further advance this branch of ultrasound devices. Their latest, the SONON 300L linear transducer, weighs only 13 ounces (370 grams) including the battery, and features color Doppler mode for easier musculoskeletal (MSK), vascular, small parts (breast, thyroid), lung, and other types of imaging.
We had a chance to ask Dr. Benjamin Ryu, the CEO of Healcerion, some questions about how his company got to where it is and where it is going.
Yuriy Sarkisov, Medgadget: Please tell us a little about yourself, how did you get involved in the ultrasound market?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: Before becoming involved in developing the first FDA approved wireless ultrasound system, I worked as an ER doctor for seven years. Working as a doctor in South Korea comes with certain advantages; we had several stationary ultrasound machines at our disposal and never had problems with access to quality diagnostic equipment. But one day, everything changed. My ambulance crew responded to a call for a pregnant unconscious woman and when we got there she was dead on arrival. We immediately began CPR and loaded her into the ambulance to transport her to the hospital. Although we managed to stabilize the woman, her unborn baby’s condition was still unknown. The baby was preterm, making it even more difficult to gauge whether it was alive or not. This nerve-wracking experience is what inspired me to create a pocket ultrasound device. With the help of such a system, we can provide better care to patients, especially in emergency situations.
Medgadget: What inspired you to develop not only an app-based system, but a wireless system?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: My reason for developing a wireless ultrasound system was a practical one. Because I had worked in the ER, I knew the problems doctors there faced. Emergency rooms are full of different types of equipment and space is limited. Plus, there are tons of wires everywhere that can get in the way, and we can’t risk stepping on them and putting the machine out of commission. Also, the multi-pin connectors used in conventional ultrasound systems are very fragile, making them an additional point of vulnerability. So app-based ultrasound with a wireless system makes perfect sense. Healcerion developed the world’s first wireless, app-based device that fits in your pocket.
Medgadget: What do you think the future holds for app-based ultrasound, and what are the main obstacles in this field?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: Whether wired or wireless, app-based ultrasound has to be able to connect to PACS and other cloud-based services. This capability allows doctors to easily transfer and share images. The future of app-based ultrasound, in my opinion, will lie in connectivity to other machines, especially those used for patient monitoring. The main obstacles I would say have to do with regulation issues, like security and communications. Because many countries don’t have definite regulations, this becomes a problem for expanding the device’s market. Additionally, engineering problems like firmware and software updates are exacerbated by regulatory issues like clinical data security.
Medgadget: What sets the Healcerion system apart from other offerings on the market?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: I started Healcerion because I found a need for an ultra-portable app-based system. Unlike other companies, my clinical and technical background give Healcerion distinct advantages. I worked for a digital signal processing company as an engineer, and also as a researcher in complicated fields like MRI and PET. It just so happens that one of my professors developed the world’s first PET scanner.
When I started working on a first of my own, app-based ultrasound, it was tough because we didn’t start from ultrasound tech. We had to build everything from scratch, assimilate new information, and develop new technologies. Healcerion wrote the book on app-based ultrasound.
Medgadget: What telemedicine trends do you see happening in the future and what is Healcerion’s approach to telemedicine in general?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: Many companies are interested in adapting to keep up with the future of medicine. In my view, telemedicine is a promising field but the clinical aspects are difficult. In South Korea, we don’t have telemedicine thanks to accessible medical facilities. Any Korean can visit a hospital within an hour’s drive. In other countries, however, the situation is different and some remote regions may not have access to high-quality healthcare. The main obstacle for telemedicine is regulation issues, reimbursement, and other issues.
Medgadget: Can you tell us about the experiences that clinicians and patients have had with the Healcerion system?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: Doctors praise Healcerion for being not only portable, but wireless. It’s invaluable for trauma care, where a quick handheld ultrasound unit is extremely useful. One example was sent to us by a doctor in Costa Rica. A person was scanned with the Healcerion system and local doctors were able to identify a tumor in the patient’s throat. Because this was in a rural area, that patient would have faced serious problems down the road. Thanks to accessible ultrasound scanning with our device, it’s easy to quickly scan even in the most remote areas of the world.
Medgadget: What’s next for Healcerion?
Dr. Benjamin Ryu: We are looking forward to improving our current devices and producing better, more high-quality systems. We are also focused on cloud-based solutions so we can build the future of mobile healthcare platforms. New Healcerion ultrasound scanners will take advantage of next-gen technology, making them more compact and easier to use.