Harvard Heart Letter

An ultrasound device barely bigger than a smartphone

Ultrasound machines can take images (echocardiograms) of the heart's chambers, valves, and blood flow that rival CT and MRI scans for detail and clarity. But sometimes a more rapidly acquired echocardiogram serves a particular purpose better than one with all the "bells and whistles."

Ultrasound devices that physicians can carry in a pocket now "compare favorably with the stethoscope as a tool to differentiate what's normal from what's not," says Dr. Judy Mangion, associate director of the noninvasive cardiac laboratory at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. They let doctors see on a flip screen what they previously could only hear and feel during a physical exam. And at about $8,000 each, a hospital conceivably could give 25 doctors their own pocket-sized ultrasound device for the same cost as a single high-end machine.

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