The next frontier in emergency aeromedical technology

Handheld Ultrasound for urgent care anywhere, anytime

Tuesday, December 13 2022

In a life-threatening emergency like those attended to daily by critical care paramedics and emergency medicine doctors manning Netcare 911’s aeromedical fleet and critical care road ambulances, every moment is critical and clinical decision making relies on the most accurate medical assessment of the patient in the shortest possible time.

Netcare 911 helicopter emergency medical service [HEMS] and fixed wing aircraft fleet will be the first emergency medical services provider in South Africa to use the VscanTM Air for trauma and cardiac emergencies countrywide. The handheld ultrasound technology is also being deployed to Netcare 911’s critical care ambulances based in Gauteng.

This wireless, pocket-sized high performance ultrasound machine manufactured by GE Healthcare and supplied by Ecomed Medical in South Africa, is highly practical as it is small enough for use in the confined space during an emergency flight, as well as being durability tested to military drop standards.

Pic: Netcare 911 critical care operations manager, Charné van der Berg, and Sam Marais, Netcare 911 emergency care practitioner, using the Vscan Air portable ultrasound device in the confined space of a emergency medical services helicopter. Netcare 911 is the first emergency medical services provider to use this technology in the aeromedical space in South Africa and it is also used in its critical care ambulances in Gauteng.

“At the scene of an emergency, we need to perform a rapid assessment of the patient’s condition to determine the extent of their injuries, which informs the next steps in their treatment. If the person has critical injuries, advanced life support must begin immediately to be most effective, but we first need to identify what is wrong to make the best possible clinical decisions for the patient,” says Craig Grindell, managing director of Netcare 911.

“While the ultrasound equipment we used up to now provided valuable insights into the internal injuries or presence of blood, they were large and cumbersome, and scans could not be performed in transit because of the limited space in a helicopter and fixed wing aircraft. The previous devices also took longer to set up, meaning their use was not always as practical when time is of the essence in saving lives.”

“Aeromedical ultrasound is now really taking flight because the VscanTM Air overcomes these limitations, enabling advanced life support paramedics to perform an E-FAST (extended focused assessment with sonography in trauma) to identify injuries, often while the patient is in transit, so they can be routed to the most appropriate trauma centre. This can make a definitive difference in providing emergency medical services and help to achieve better outcomes for our patients,” he says.


More Vscan AirTM benefits

Small and light enough to be held in one hand, the VscanTM Air scanner connects to an app on a mobile device, enabling the Netcare 911 critical care team to send high quality ultrasound images or video to the receiving specialist at the trauma centre via WhatsApp or email, either from the scene of the emergency or while en route to hospital.  

The technologies and solutions are specifically designed to improve efficiency and productivity, increase access to care and empower clinicians with AI and analytics when, where and how they need it most.  Adding to Netcare Group’s best in class technology capabilities, the Vscan AirTM is just one example of how technology and innovation coming together can drive better patient outcomes at the point of care.

This wireless, pocket-sized ultrasound device provides exceptionally clear image quality, whole-body scanning capabilities, and intuitive software – all in the palm of the clinician’s hand.  The versatility and ease of use of the VscanTM Air device is extending the frontiers of pre-hospital management by enhancing the physical examination of patients, accelerating diagnoses, and helping caregivers triage patients, in the air and out in the field.

Charné van der Berg, Netcare 911’s critical care operations manager, explains that the convenient interface with advanced life support on a mobile device is instrumental in making it quicker and easier than ever before to coordinate care with the trauma surgeon and team at the receiving hospital.

“Every second is precious when a patient is critically ill or injured – so much so that in some cases we do not even have time for the helicopter blades to stop spinning before we load the patient on scene in what is known as a ‘hot load’. With the benefit of these high-quality ultrasound images, we can let the emergency department know in greater detail what they need to prepare for so they can start working on the patient immediately when we arrive at the hospital,” she says.

Within a minute, the VscanTM Air provides the medical team with a non-invasive look inside the chest and abdomen, or anywhere in the body as needed, without any radiation exposure. “This makes it possible for us to identify anatomical landmarks and any internal bleeding, and even consult the trauma surgeon miles away on our findings to guide pre-hospital intervention, if required.

“If the patient is in cardiac failure, we can now see the heart and which area is affected properly to initiate the right treatment immediately. This ultrasound device also guides us in accurately placing intravenous lines, and when we’re performing intubation, it helps ensure that we have passed the vocal cords and reached the correct position to keep the airway open.”

“With this advanced imaging technology to confirm where anatomical structures are located, we are also better equipped, and therefore more confident, to perform intricate emergency procedures, such as inflating a collapsed lung, before the patient reaches hospital,” Van der Berg says.

As a long-standing supplier to Netcare 911, Ecomed Medical demonstrated the VscanTM Air as the latest wireless ultrasound device to Netcare 911 management, who immediately recognised the lifesaving value of this technology. Ecomed Medical is the authorised distributor for GE Healthcare Ultrasound, as part of its complete solutions for the medical industry, including specialised equipment.

“In the upcoming festive season and into the future, this latest addition to Netcare 911’s many advanced diagnostic tools will serve our patients well when they need it the most. The VscanTM Air is extending our capabilities in doing what we are most passionate about: saving lives,” Grindell concludes.


Notes to editor

Looking for a medical appointment? Netcare appointmed™ will make appointments for YOU with specialists practising at Netcare hospitals, GPs and dentists at Medicross medical and dental centres, and specialists at Akeso mental health facilities. Simply request an appointment online at or phone Netcare appointmed™ on 0860 555 565, Mondays to Fridays between 08:00 and 17:00.
To find out more about the services offered through Netcare hospitals and other of the Group’s facilities, please visit or contact the Netcare customer service centre either by email at [email protected] or phone 0860 NETCARE (0860 638 2273). Note that the centre operates Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 16:00.

About GE Healthcare
GE Healthcare is a leading provider of medical imaging, monitoring, biomanufacturing, and cell and gene therapy technologies. GE Healthcare enables precision health in diagnostics, therapeutics and monitoring through intelligent devices, data analytics, applications and services. With over 100 years of experience and leadership in the healthcare industry and more than 50,000 employees globally, GE Healthcare helps healthcare providers, researchers and life sciences companies in their mission to improve outcomes for patients around the world. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and The Pulse for latest news, or visit our website for more information.

About Ecomed Medical
Ecomed Medical offers complete solutions in the medical industry including, but not limited to specialised equipment for both pre-hospital and hospital with experience in the following divisions: Neonatal and Adult ICU; Theatre; Maternity; General Ward; Trauma Unit; Radiology; Emergency Medical Services; Homecare; Respiratory; CPAP and Pain Management.  Ecomed Medical is the authorised distributor for GE Healthcare Ultrasounds, and a long-term partner with Netcare 911. Ecomed engaged with Netcare 911 with the launch of the latest wireless ultrasound from GE Healthcare and provided Netcare 911 with the potential clinical benefits of this product, thereby advancing their scope of practice. Ecomed further provides ongoing support to Netcare 911 through our extensive branch network consisting of technical and clinical support staff.

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