A Publication of WTVP

No hocus in this POCUS

by Mark Welp |
Exo Works

Exo Works is helping doctors use ultrasound technology to better diagnose and treat patients, and saving lives

One of the next big innovations in high-tech health care is being tested by OSF St. Francis Medical Center ER doctors, and the results aren’t a lot of hocus-pocus. Indeed, it’s just POCUS, or point-of-care ultrasound, a portable medical imaging software system that doctors say could fundamentally change the way they do business.

The technology, from device company Exo, allows physicians to immediately and effectively diagnose ailments bedside and save the ultrasound images for future reference and treatment decisions. Ultrasound is used for much more than producing images of unborn children; it can diagnose blood clots, kidney stones, abnormal growths and potentially deadly heart problems.

“Three different times in my career, I’ve had people dying on arrival and I’ve used ultrasound to look at their heart and I see a massive amount of fluid that’s killing them,” said Dr. John Wipfler, attending emergency department doctor at OSF St. Francis. “Without waiting, I take a six-inch-long needle and push that into the space outside of the heart and suck out about 35 ccs of fluid. Their blood pressure instantly goes to normal and they stop dying on you.”

OSF Ventures, the investment branch of OSF HealthCare, helped fund Silicon Valley-based company Exo several years ago and Exo Works was launched in March 2022. Wipfler and two fellow doctors volunteered to help develop the Exo Works software and provide feedback regarding a tool that streamlines complicated processes and allows for split-second treatment decisions. Because the difference between life and death can be measured in minutes, Wipfler said trauma patients also will benefit.

Let’s say a patient comes in with a chest injury and there’s a possibility of major internal bleeding. Ultrasound can be used “to look at their chest and figure out if they have lungs that are inflated or if you have maybe a deflated lung or a broken rib,” said Wipfler. “You can use ultrasound literally within 15 seconds of putting it on. You don’t have to wait five minutes for the chest X-ray. You don’t have to wait 15 to 20 minutes for the CAT scan.”

The maker of Exo Works says the software “streamlines image documentation, billing, quality assurance and credentialing all in one platform. The software can be used with virtually any ultrasound device and works on both mobile devices and desktops.” Meanwhile, it also improves billing procedures, as when doctors are trying to save lives, they often aren’t thinking about what documents insurance companies need.

‘a small lightweight probe about the size of your phone is going to be an ultrasound machine’ — Dr. John Wipfler

“The insurance companies that are going to reimburse a hospital for a procedure want proof of what you did. So, you need a picture of the heart. You need a picture of that spleen that ruptured,” explained Wipfler.

In addition to streamlining the ultrasound workflow, Exo is producing a handheld ultrasound device that Wipfler says OSF St. Francis should be using soon. He predicts that within 10 years, 90% of the world’s doctors will be carrying these devices instead of stethoscopes.

“Whether you’re a cardiologist, OB-GYN, a family doctor, or ER doctor,” you’re “going to be carrying a small lightweight probe about the size of your phone and the probe is going to be an ultrasound machine,” said Wipfler. That probe will link up wirelessly with a phone or tablet, which will display real-time images of whatever vital organ is in distress, which is critical for someone in Wipfler’s line of work.

“Why would you want to listen to the heart when you can see the heart and see what’s going on?”

Mark Welp

Mark Welp

spent many years doing TV journalism in the Peoria market before coming on board at WTVP PBS as a senior content producer