Market Insight

Analyzing the market drivers and challenges for the adoption of handheld ultrasound systems

June 14, 2017

Holley Lewis Holley Lewis Senior Analyst, Healthcare Technology
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Key takeaways

The growing popularity of quick examinations at the point –of –care is paving the way for the adoption of handheld ultrasound systems. These are portable ultrasound systems designed to be held by the doctor or technician conducting an imaging examination. This product category includes smart devices running mobile applications that operate as functioning ultrasound systems.

Global handheld ultrasound revenues were $44.8 million in 2016, accounting for only 0.7% of the total revenues from ultrasound equipment; but IHS Markit forecasts that they will grow at a CAGR (compound-average annual growth rate) of 14.2% from 2016 to 2021 to reach nearly $90 million, as shown below.

This high rate of growth can be attributed to three main factors:

  1. Several new handheld systems will be introduced to the market in 2017, and this trend will continue during the next five years.
  2. At least three handheld ultrasound products will be sold in new regions during 2017 and 2018, and this geographic expansion will continue throughout the forecast period.
  3. Handheld ultrasound systems will have a high adoption rate in both emerging and mature markets. Emerging markets will find handheld systems appealing because of their affordability and portability. Mature markets will see an uptake of handheld systems with the continued rise of point –of –care ultrasound imaging.

Market drivers

Increasing demand for point-of-care ultrasound applications, such as emergency medicine, primary care, and musculoskeletal ultrasound examinations, will drive growth for handheld revenues in developed markets, including the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. Revenues will also grow in emerging markets, where the low –cost and portability of the equipment will appeal to physicians working in underfunded and non-traditional healthcare settings. For example, handheld systems have been heavily marketed toward physicians in rural areas who are required to travel long-distances to visit patients in small clinics.

Handheld ultrasound systems offer several advantages to healthcare providers. Since the average size of a handheld ultrasound system on the market is that of a smart phone or tablet and can thus remain on the physician’s body when not –in –use, it provides physicians with constant access to imaging equipment. These handheld systems mean the physician can avoid waiting on another department to finish an exam, wheeling patients to an imaging lab, or referring patients to satellite imaging centers. The convenience of handheld ultrasound systems offers major benefits to physicians practicing imaging at the point –of –care; and these systems have been marketed toward several point-of-care applications including ultrasound for anesthesia, emergency medicine, primary care, and musculoskeletal imaging.

Market challenges

Handheld ultrasound is still considered an emerging technology, despite the first handheld product—GE Healthcare’s Vscan—being launched over seven years ago, in 2010. Other manufacturers of ultrasound equipment were slow to create competing products; Philips Healthcare and Fujifilm Sonosite launched their handheld ultrasound products in 2015. GE, Philips, and Fujifilm Sonosite remain the only manufacturers in the global top ten with handheld ultrasound products on the market, but there are now dozens of commercially available handheld ultrasound products manufactured by smaller companies.

The affordability of handheld ultrasound systems (products from the top brands start at prices less than $10,000) makes them prime products to be manufactured by Asian companies and sold through distributors in emerging markets; and the resulting availability of handheld ultrasound systems poses a major challenge to manufacturers. Performing high quality ultrasound examinations requires many hours of education and training; the growing popularity and increasing accessibility of handheld ultrasound equipment could place these products in inexperienced hands. Additionally, the convenience of handheld ultrasound systems in the pockets of every physician could lead to unnecessary imaging and missed diagnoses.

Manufacturers can address these challenges by implementing official training programs for new users of handheld ultrasound equipment and by providing continued training support after the initial sale. In addition, manufacturers can implement a subscription-based payment structure for their handheld ultrasound products which will alleviate physicians’ hesitations in investing in emerging imaging technology. Allowing physicians to test drive handheld systems may encourage early majority adopters to embrace these new products.

The IHS Markit Ultrasound Intelligence Service works with ultrasound equipment-manufacturers, distributors, and experts in every region of the world to provide unparalleled insight into the global ultrasound market. In the recently published Ultrasound Equipment Report, IHS Markit analyzed the 2016 ultrasound market for nine product categories in 32 sub-regions and identified the key trends that will influence these markets to 2021.

For more information about how IHS Markit can advance your competitive position in the ultrasound market, please visit our website at

Research by Market
Healthcare Technology
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