For the past few years, Fondation Pierre Fabre has been exploring the advantages provided by ICT in the realm of healthcare. In 2012 and 2013, for example, it subsidised the DrepanoMRS application. In 2015, however, the Foundation decided to take a more ambitious step by financing the design and development of an echo stethoscope through the EchOpen project. This initiative is a response to advances in ultrasonic diagnostic equipment, which continues to become less bulky and less costly.

EchOpen is working to develop an echo-stethoscope sensor prototype that plugs into a smartphone or tablet. This 21st-century stethoscope, simple and extremely portable, would make it possible to obtain real-time ultrasound and Doppler imaging, whatever the exam (gynaecological, vascular, muscle-tendon, breast, cervical, etc.) and to share the results using the Cloud for diagnostic assistance from specialists.

The unprecedented development of this tool, in Open Source Hardware, is one of its main assets: by rallying the volunteer efforts of a strong scientific community, it could be distributed inexpensively in the South. It would also promote better access to medical imaging and telemedicine, for swifter diagnoses. A way to fundamentally change patients referrals and save lives in under-medicalised areas.

EchOpen is a project of global scale: it will improve healthcare in the North and alleviate the difficulties in access to healthcare in the South. Whether in emergency, general, specialty or bush medicine, it will make diagnostic care possible, inexpensively and ubiquitously. With a device that fits in your hand, one that is a hundred times less expensive than conventional ultrasound equipment, caregivers will see the state of the organs and immediately be able to distinguish major, serious, urgent pathologies from those that merit further examination. Furthermore, the open source nature of EchOpen will generate the community-leverage effect needed for it to be widely disseminated. We are now at a tipping point: the next fifteen years should free up technologies in imaging (MRI, scanners, etc.) and biology.”

Mehdi Benchoufi President of the EchOpen Association

Future initiatives

The EchOpen team expects its prototype to be functional by 2016 – a very symbolic date, as it marks the bicentenary of the Laennec stethoscope. Another milestone: the training of future users of the echo-stethoscope through on-site and e-learning modules.