Match made: Butterfly, Caption Health team up to bring AI to portable ultrasound

Two companies working to reshape the ultrasound field have joined forces, with Caption Health looking to bring its artificial intelligence-guided exams to Butterfly Network’s handheld diagnostic probes.

By the end of this year, the exclusive strategic partnership aims to provide an integrated, portable device built for cardiac scans and in particular, one that’s easy to use with various levels of training, whether in a hospital, urgent care clinic or at home. 

“This is a pivotal time when imaging can reinvent diagnostic speed and accuracy,” said Caption Health’s president and CEO, Steve Cashman in a statement.

“Butterfly’s comprehensive and versatile whole-body ultrasound solution will now have FDA-cleared AI guidance and interpretation, allowing every healthcare provider the ability to capture and understand cardiac function, and this is only the beginning,” noted Cashman, who took the reins of the Fierce 15 winner this past April.

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While Caption Health and Butterfly—also a member of the Fierce 15—were both featured on Fierce Medtech's list of top M&A targets last year, they have since found their way to each other after Butterfly went public through its own reverse merger: a $1.5 billion SPAC deal backed by Glenview Capital.

This year also saw Butterfly net a new CEO in Todd Fruchterman, former president and general manager of 3M's $4.8 billion medical solutions division, and announce its plans to build a new corporate headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts.

“By combining Butterfly’s differentiated solution with Caption’s AI capabilities, we are accelerating on our promise to provide practitioners with an easy-to-use advanced assessment tool that allows them to make more informed clinical decisions earlier in the patient care journey,” Fruchterman said.

Meanwhile, Caption Health recently acquired additional reimbursement coverage from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services through the new technology add-on payments program known as NTAP, which dovetails with the company’s previous breakthrough device designation from the FDA.

Its Caption Guidance software will be linked to a newly created ICD-10 procedure code, effective October 1, for helping hospital staff diagnose potentially millions of cases of heart failure, stroke and other common cardiac conditions among Medicare beneficiaries.

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The tie-up between Caption Health and Butterfly represents the inevitable combination of the two major recent advancements in ultrasound: software that walks healthcare professionals through a tricky exam for the clearest images without the need for a specialist and hardware enabling its use at the point-of-care.

It comes as the hand-held ultrasound field has captured the attention of investors and the industry, with companies large and small racing to build the future where providers can have instant access and a deeper understanding of their patients' conditions.

Late last month, Exo secured a $220 million funding round for its upcoming point-of-care probe after raising just $40 million less than one year prior. The 2020 raise came on the heels of EchoNous’ $60 million to help roll out its portable Kosmos device. Meanwhile, GE Healthcare launched a new version of its miniaturized ultrasound aimed at COVID-19 wards.

Both EchoNous' and GE’s devices tap into AI to help automatically identify the key features of a person’s health, such as their heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. Exo aims to digitally streamline exams, documentation and billing, which could make it easier to perform at-home exams with the probe shipped through the mail.

“Seeing is knowing,” said Fruchterman, who described Butterfly’s goal as the democratization of medical imaging and the ability to provide crucial information where it is needed.