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Robots Prove Valuable in Imaging, Telemedicine, New Research Shows

August 14, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Two recent studies from the New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System have demonstrated how robots could assist with ultrasound imaging and telemedicine. 

While in Germany, Partho P. Sengupta, M.D., of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai used a computer to perform a robot-assisted trans-Atlantic ultrasound examination on a person in Boston. In another study Kurt Boman, M.D., of Umeå University in Sweden in collaboration with Mount Sinai, showed how a cardiologist’s video e-consultation, coupled with a remote robot-assisted echocardiogram test, reduces the waiting time for a diagnosis faced by heart failure patients who live far from the hospital from nearly four months to less than one month.

In the first study, Dr. Sengupta and researchers tested the use of a small, lightweight robotic-arm with built-in ultrasound technology stationed in Boston and connected to a personal computer with a low-bandwidth Internet connection in Munich, Germany. The robotic ultrasound exam of a person’s carotid artery in their neck was completed in just four minutes.

"This feasibility and time-efficiency of long-distance, telerobotic ultrasound may help expand the role of imagers to care for patients online virtually lending a true 'helping hand' remotely and providing a patients care team expert guidance," Sengupta said in a news release statement. In the study experiments, both advanced experts and early trainees on robotic ultrasound were able to operate the telerobotic technology.

In the second study, Dr. Boman and colleagues randomized half their study patients to remote consultation and the other half to standard of care referral to the hospital. Remote consultation and the robotic echocardiogram exam were conducted on the same day of a patients visit to their local primary healthcare center located more than 100 miles away from the hospital. Study results show that the total diagnostic process time was reduced from 114 to 27 days in those patients receiving remote consultation. Also, the patients wait time until obtaining a specialist consultation was reduced from 86 to 12 days, with 95 percent of remote consult patients claiming remote consult to be a superior strategy.

"As a result of our pilot study, we were able to establish a safe and efficient e-health solution to improve the comprehensive, convenient examination of suspected heart failure patients in a rural community of northern Sweden and improve their physician care teams communication," Jagat Narula, M.D., Ph.D., the senior author of both research studies, said in the news release."This pilot study may serve as a future model for use of e-consults and robotic imaging in similar rural communities to improve access to specialists and the latest diagnostic technology globally."

According to researchers, on-demand, virtual robotic ultrasound could be used in a wide variety of clinical setting collaborations ranging from timely in-hospital or emergency room patient imaging studies, community screenings, or even within dangerous locations such as war zones.  

These two research studies appear simultaneously in the August issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology-Imaging. "The two studies give us a glimpse of what to expect in the near future, a patient-friendly imaging technology at your doorstep," said Narula.

“Our first-in-man experiment shows long-distance, telerobotic ultrasound examinations over standard internet are possible," Sengupta added. "Our successful experiment opens up a new frontier for the use of remote, robotic ultrasound imaging that could potentially be more efficient and cost-effective overall for healthcare access and delivery."

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