By Joan Elovitz Kazan
When Dr. Jason Jurva performs rounds at Milwaukee’s Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, he has his stethoscope around his neck and his Vscan in his pocket. Stethoscopes are a familiar medical tool, but few patients have been “Vscanned.”
GE Healthcare in Wauwatosa created the portable ultrasound machine, which Time magazine named an “Invention of the Year” in 2009 – one year before it was commercially available. “The Vscan is a pocket-sized visualization tool for physicians to take a quick look inside the body,” says Agnes Berzsenyi, the general manager of global primary care ultrasound at GE Healthcare. Vscan was created as part of the Healthymagination initiative, which has earmarked $3 billion for health care innovation. Version 1.2, released in May, makes for an even speedier diagnostic tool.
Jurva is a cardiologist and director of Zablocki’s echocardiography lab, and he was one of the first to receive the technology. “I had the opportunity to try one when it was still a prototype,” he says. “We wound up getting the first one.” Now he’s hooked. “It’s simple and it’s fast. The image quality is very good. I think it’s become indispensable for the care of our veterans.”
The number of veterans in Wisconsin is decreasing, but their age is increasing: The state now has a higher-than-average percentage of veterans over the age of 65. Veterans of all ages tend to have more advanced illnesses than other patients, Jurva says, and the Vscan allows for quicker treatment. “In my experience, the patients here tend to be sicker than your average hospital patient,” he says. “It makes it more important to get your diagnosis done correctly and in a timely manner.”
In May, when a chest X-ray showed an enlarged heart in one of Jurva’s patients, he used Vscan to make an instant diagnosis. “From the X-ray, it’s not always clear why the heart is enlarged. You sort of get a silhouette on a chest X-ray,” he says. “I pulled out my Vscan, and within 10 to 30 seconds or so, I could tell that the left ventricle was enlarged and that the muscle wasn’t functioning normally.” Treatment started immediately. Without the Vscan, Jurva would have ordered a full echocardiogram, a sonogram of the heart, for the next day. That extra day can be life-saving.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has increased transparency in medical center quality, and in 2010, an unprecedented move released performance data for the nation’s 150-plus VA hospitals. From October 2010 to September 2011, the Zablocki Medical Center received a 100 percent score on one key measure of quality: testing how the left side of the heart pumped for patients with heart failure. Doctors can use Vscan to meet that benchmark – what Jurva did with his patient in May.
But the scope of the device is not limited to cardiology. “It has been widely used to improve the quality of primary care in emergency departments, intensive care units, internal medicine, pediatrics and OB-GYN, in addition to cardiology,” Berzsenyi says.
A new Vscan, at a cost of less than $8,000, runs four or five times less than a full-sized ultrasound machine, allowing hospitals to invest in multiple units.
For Jurva, it’s become an essential tool. “I carry it with me every day.”