BURNABY, B.C. -- For decades, ultrasounds have been large, expensive machines on wheeled carts. A Burnaby company is changing that, with a small, handheld ultrasound that can be connected to a mobile device.

“The biggest change is our device fits in the palm of your hand. So we’ve brought that entire cart system and brought it down to this size,” said Jeff Schoenfeld, the vice president of Clarius Mobile Health. “And imaging is seen right on your own phone or tablet.”

Fifty of the devices are being shipped to emergency rooms in rural communities in B.C., and 30 are staying in Metro Vancouver for use on COVID-19 patients at local hospitals, including St. Paul’s.

“Specifically in the time of COVID, we find it incredibly helpful to be able to take this tiny device into these rooms that are sealed with negative pressure to protect the staff and other patients and we can acquire our ultrasound images in a tiny space,” said St. Paul’s emergency room Dr. Oron Frenkel.

It keeps doctors from bringing COVID-19-positive patients to radiology, where the infection could spread. The smaller devices are also much easier to disinfect than larger carts.

“There’s been a huge increase in interest in the device, globally,” said Schoenfeld. “Every unit we produce ships out immediately. We’re producing hundreds and hundreds of systems all the time.”

The units start at $6,500 each, while a traditional ultrasound machine can be $100,000.

While it was the pandemic that sparked interest in the new technology, doctors think it will dominate the ultrasound field from this point on.

“I absolutely think this is the future,” said Frenkel. “I think handheld, point-of-care ultrasound is probably the most disruptive technology in the clinical encounter between physician and patient since the invention of the stethoscope 200 years ago.”