Robots have long promised big things for the healthcare industry, but concerns have been expressed over efficacy and limitations. One area, however, has demonstrated the considerable benefits robots bring to the table, according to two recent reports.
The new research makes a compelling case for robots in diagnostic imaging, specifically. The studies were conducted by staff at the New York-based Mount Sinai Health System's Icahn School of Medicine, and "give us a glimpse of what to expect in the near future, a patient-friendly imaging technology at your doorstep," said Jagat Narula, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Center and Associate Dean of Global Research at the Icahn School at Mount Sinai, in a press release.
In one study, Partho Sengupta, MD, directed a small, lightweight robotic arm with built-in ultrasound technology to examine the carotid artery of a patient in Boston. Sengupta, who was using a personal computer with a low-bandwidth Internet connection in Munich, Germany, completed the examination in 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 patient's care team expert guidance," said Sengupta, director of cardiac ultrasound research at the Icahn School and chairman of the New Technology Task Force at the American Society of Echocardiography, in the press release.
"Our first-in-man experiment shows long-distance, telerobotic ultrasound examinations over standard Internet are possible," he 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."
In the second study, Mount Sinai researchers collaborated with Kurt Borman, MD, of Umea University in Sweden to conduct robotic echocardiogram exams of several patients in remote clinics more than 100 miles from Borman's hospital. According to Borman, the robot-assisted exams helped reduce diagnostic process time from 114 to 27 days, while a patient's wait time to see a specialist was reduced from 86 to 12 days; in addition, 95 percent of the patients involved in the remote consults said the results were superior to an in-person encounter.
"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 team's communication," said Narula, who published both studies in the August issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology-Imaging. "This pilot 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."
"These studies lift the robotic imaging and telemedicine to the next level," said Sherif F. Nagueh, MD, medical director of the Echocardiography Laboratory at Houston's Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, in an editorial accompanying the studies.
Valentin Foster, MD, the new editor-in-chief of the JACC and director of Mount Sinai Hospital's "Mount Sinai Heart" program, said this type of technology could become the norm in areas where patients and specialists are separated by long distances.
"In clinical medicine, the use of more portable low-cost, safe, non-radiation using ultrasound imaging technology is growing for diagnosis, patient monitoring, and procedural and surgical planning," he said. "The technology may be key to accelerating greater local and global healthcare access more efficiently and cost-effectively for patients, doctors, communities and hospitals in need."