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Assessing risk, expanding reach: Innovative ultrasound designed for front-line healthcare workers to help improve maternal health

GE Healthcare introduced in certain countries in Africa and Southeast Asia its new Vscan AccessTM portable ultrasound system, designed to help healthcare providers improve care. With a simple touchscreen interface, rugged design and software tools to support clinical decision-making, Vscan Access is designed specifically for primary healthcare workers – such as midwives, general practitioners, paramedics and clinical officers – in low-resource settings to provide information to the user during pregnancy assessments. Vscan Access is currently being showcased for the first time at the 68th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

Improving maternal and newborn health remains one of the most pressing priorities for the global community. From the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many countries still need to reduce pregnancy-related mortality. In 2010, GE made a commitment to the United Nations to develop evidence-based solutions for maternal and child health by 2015. Vscan Access is the latest in a portfolio of accessible ultrasound products to help meet that commitment.

Anders Wold, President and CEO of GE Healthcare’s Ultrasound business said:

Based on five years of collaborative field research with stakeholders in more than 20 countries, GE Healthcare understands the challenges Ministries of Health face in developing nations, including: physician shortages in high-mortality and low-resource areas, pregnant women not seeking antenatal care (ANC), and lack of access to appropriate diagnostic devices in the primary care setting, studies have shown ultrasound can help enable task-shifting to midwives for basic obstetric scanning, mobilize mothers to seek more ANC visits and improve pregnancy management through early detection and referral of pregnancy complications

Features of the Vscan Access designed with the input of and for healthcare providers in developing nations also include a lightweight, portable, damage-and-dust-resistant design, battery-operation with flexible charging options, as well as Bluetooth® wireless connectivity so data can be transferred to patients’ referral facilities or remote experts easily. Software innovations such as pregnancy education, videos for patients, a multi-lingual user interface, and a reference library of scan images to support novice users of ultrasound, were also developed with the primary care end-user in mind.

In addition to new diagnostic tools, GE Healthcare is committing to supporting healthcare providers and policy-makers in developing nations with training, comprehensive service coverage, and access to other elements of its comprehensive portfolio of low-cost devices to help during pregnancy and deliveries, including: warmers, incubators, resuscitation devices and anesthesia.

Building upon the demonstrated impact of ultrasound in Africa

In recent years, GE Healthcare has collaborated with governments, academic researchers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on several research studies to assess the maternal health impact of ultrasound use in primary care facilities. For example, in a study led by the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, 14 primary health workers including midwives, nurses and medical attendants were trained for 10 days in the use of a handheld ultrasound device, and performed basic obstetric ultrasound scanning at rural dispensaries and district hospitals.  In an evaluation of their diagnoses, an independent senior radiologist confirmed users accuracy to be higher than 80%, demonstrating that task-shifting obstetric ultrasound could be an effective way to expand access to antenatal diagnostic imaging.

Other peer-reviewed studies of ultrasound usage have also demonstrated:

  • In Uganda, ultrasound implemented in a primary care facility led to a 72% increase in total antenatal care visits, and four times as many women attending four or more ANC visits.
  • Making ultrasound available to midwives in Zambia resulted in 17% of obstetric cases having a change in the clinical management of a patient, particularly with malpresentation and multiple gestations.

At GE Healthcare, our commitment to collaboration runs deep, said Ajay Parkhe, General Manager of Primary Care Ultrasound for GE Healthcare. We stand ready with every Ministry of Health to support a local framework for progress in maternal and newborn health. This is not just a product, but a multi-faceted integrated program to improve access to healthcare for