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Mini heart scans with your own GP

IT COULD cause a medical revolution, a hand-held ultrasound scanner that can show a worried doctor how your heart is beating.

The Vscan is not as powerful as the massive scanners hospitals use to check whether a patient is in danger of a heart attack, but it doesn't need to be. A two-minute look into your heart with this device, the size of a mobile phone, could allow your family doctor to decide whether you need to be rushed to hospital.

The Vscan will be used by GPs -- it could soon be as common and as essential as a stethoscope -- and in A&Es and coronary care units. And it costs just £5,000 (€5,540) -- a price that makes it pretty affordable even for hard-pressed GPs' surgeries.

It can show gallstones, and the telltale fluid around the heart that is a sign of congestive heart failure. It can warn of heart-valve diseases and heart-muscle disease. It can check foetal heartbeat to show that all's well inside the pregnant bump.

The Vscan involves the reader and a scanning wand that is moved over the patient's body. It can save the image shown, and the doctor can save voice notes.

Reading ultrasound scans is a fairly specialist skill at the moment, but as the little scanner's use grows, that skill will spread and become more widespread. If it takes off, this could be a tool in every ambulance.


The Vscan was developed in Norway by engineers working for the giant GE Healthcare who have developed ultrasound scanners -- the kind used in Irish hospitals -- since the early 80s. Doctors who have tested it are enthusiastic. German cardiologist Mark Oliver Grad used it on 100 patients, and said: "It is my opinion that Vscan can help revolutionise medicine at point-of-care."

And Stephane Lafitte, of Bordeaux University's cardiology department, said: "Due to high image quality, it could yield earlier diagnosis of specific heart diseases and more efficient follow-up of fragile patients, such as those with heart failure."

"What the Vscan does is 2D imaging -- that's the greyscale images you'll have seen on the TV on medical programmes," says cardiologist Simon Robson of GE Healthcare. "The doctor puts the probe on your chest, and you see the valves opening and closing, the chambers pumping."

It can also do colour-flow mapping, which shows the movement of blood in a heart, so you can see how the blood is moving through the heart valves and chambers.

For health systems' bean counters, the hand-held scanner has a bigger value: it may clear the huge waiting lists for expensive scans on hospital machines.

Today, a doctor uncertain if there is an issue with a patient's heart -- say if someone comes in with chest pains -- sends the patient to hospital, recommending a full scan.

But the Vscan will allow the doctor to check before sending the patient, and sometimes see that the heart is working healthily, so no hospital scan is needed. Can you hear the money men's hearts beating faster at the idea?