Telemedicine has been around for over a decade in various forms, but the COVID-19 epidemic has turned a convenience into a necessity. Clinical practices that never seriously considered using telemedicine are now performing virtual house calls with their patients. However, although it’s possible to do a lot through a video call, many procedures such as ultrasound exams require a trained professional to perform them. Or so we thought…
Butterfly Network, a maker of portable ultrasound wands that can turn a smartphone into a complete ultrasound system, has unveiled its Butterfly TeleGuidance that lets just about anyone do a scan. The system relies on a physician, or another certified clinician, to guide the user remotely using Butterfly’s software. It links the Butterfly ultrasound and the smartphone it’s connected to with a clinician’s computer, who may be very far away. The clinician can position, move, and rotate augmented reality signs that describe how to manipulate the ultrasound wand while talking to the individual performing the exam and seeing what they are seeing.
The imaging output of the ultrasound is relayed to the clinician who sees it in real-time next to the video coming from the operator’s smartphone. This first-person perspective helps to create an intuitive experience for the clinician to make it easier to offer guidance.
Because of the new emergency rules that the FDA has put in place, physicians will be free to use the Butterfly TeleGuidance system to perform exams on patients with COVID or suspected of having it. Lung exams will certainly be the primary focus at this time, but the technology should have immense practical applications in a variety of unusual settings.