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GE Demos the Vscan, a Pocket-Sized Ultrasound Device, at its Healthymagination Showcase

The Vscan is part of GE’s health care and technology showcase in Manhattan, which will be open to the public on Saturday.

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GE announced its pocket-sized Vscan this week at the Web 2.0 conference, a small, portable ultrasound device that could radically transform the way doctors make quick and simple assessment of life-threatening issues. It’s also portable and durable enough to be used in the field in developing nations.

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The device, which is the size of a cell phone (well, a much older model at least), puts the ability to see and diagnose many issues directly into the doctor’s hand. It could also reduce health-care costs in general because patients would no longer need to be routed to specialists just to get ultrasounds. GE thinks this device could one day replace the physician’s stethoscope.

The Vscan is a centerpiece of GE’s Healthymagination Showcase in Midtown Manhattan, which will be open to the public this Saturday. We got a sneak preview of the space, which was designed by Local Projects, Thinc Design, Urban A&O, and Hyperquake, and projects real stories about health onto real hospital elements like gurneys–and, cleverly, stacks of paperwork.

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On Thursday, designers, doctors, and journalists convened at the Healthymagination showcase to talk about the impact design can make on the country’s struggling health care system. Five speakers from very different realms of the design and medical worlds–Nussbaum, MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, Dr. Nicholas F. LaRusso, of the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Gary Eric Kalkut, of Monterfiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Bob Schwartz, general manager of global design at GE Healthcare, each discussed some revolutionary ways that design is tranforming the face of health care. “A medical procedure is one of the most emotional experiences you can have,” said Schwartz as he opened the event. “So why is the design of most medical equipment and environments devoid of emotion?” Several recent innovations in the field presented by each speaker proved otherwise.

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Healthymagination data visualization: GE commissioned data viz whiz Ben Fry to take real-time date of electronic medical records and create an interactive experience that beautifully illustrates the medical and health issues facing Americans today.

GE’s Pediatric Patient Experience: The terrifying experience of slipping inside an MRI machine is extremely traumatic for kids, so GE took the traditional equipment and added a themed visual and storytelling narrative so kids would feel like they were going on an adventure. It has so effective that technicians are seeing 90% less sedation needed.

Health care communities: Nussbaum talked about how the power of digital communities can help share information about health care or unite those coping with illness. He claimed he’d heard of a nudist breast cancer survior colony in Florida? (Maybe he was kidding?) But Livestrong is a great example of that in action.

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Eames leg splint & IDEO’s Mobile Organ Profusion Device: Design maven Antonelli took one from the archives, the Eameses wooden leg splint which made use of available materials during wartime, and compared it to IDEO’s organ tranfusion equipment that simplifies and streamlines the process of transporting organs.

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High Reliability Operating Room: Mayo Clinic is leading several design projects with a troupe of design firms and schools that study the teamwork and group dynamics of medical teams. One of their latest is redesigning the traditional operating room into a system that merges the best of communication design, spatial design and product design.

Patient-Centered Medical Home: This system, also pioneered by the Mayo Clinic, rethinks the hospital experience completely. Instead of rushing to a big hospital, patients would go to a smaller community-based centers that can not only offer local customized care, but also the necessary support group during recovery.

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The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore: The Bronx hospital, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York, was given a radical makeover by David Rockwell (one of the Masters of Design we fêted last night). In addition to the rich, colorful interiors, rooms include places for familes who may be homeless to spend the night with their kids.

“Why can’t every hospital be designed like an Apple Store?” Schwartz wondered aloud at the end of the event. I can see it now: Make an appointment online, use the Genius Bar for diagnosis, all the shiny equipment is out in the open for people to play with and learn about, and associates not only discuss your needs, one-on-one, they can pull up your medical records and accept payment using wireless devices. The hopeful real-life examples offered today seemed to make some headway towards that utopian vision, but the big question is how these quite simple solutions can be presented as real possibilities to our bickering, heavy-handed government.

[Photo by David Goldman/AP Images]

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About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.

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