Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School have deployed the first-ever FDA-approved clinical robotic tele-cardiac ultrasound technology in the United States.

It's called The Melody. Chief of cardiology, Dr. Partho Sengupta, said this allows an ultrasound system to captures pictures of the heart remotely without the requirement of a physician or a sonographer on site. This is done with the help of a robotic arm.

"We control the arm remotely many, many miles away. We can do that from other offices remotely and this is a method for performing which is equivalent to when patients do telemedicine," he said.

The Melody is being successfully used in Europe and Canada and has been approved for clinical use in the U.S. by the FDA.

Sengupta said the technology is very beneficial to patients because it improves access for them. People living in medical deserts may not have easy access to care. So this robot allows physicians to provide these kinds of services remotely without requiring them to transport to a different facility.

Ultrasound is a powerful tool for the early detection of underlying heart diseases. The robotic arm allows for more timely visits and care that can be taken with more personalized approaches.

"This is a window that opens up access to care, which is one of the most problematic issues in health care today. It increases the access for early cardiovascular assessments and diagnostics to be performed," Sengupta said.

The Melody also provides tremendous benefits for the health care professionals especially because there is a shortage of sonographers. So this allows people from any part of the nation or state to be able to provide expertise at the point of care, remotely, he said.

For example, sonographers may be required to perform an ultrasound in the middle of the night in an emergency room. But with The Melody, they would not have to travel. Very shortly, they can just open their computers and when they get a call, perform an ultrasound from anywhere remotely, even from their own homes. It's a timesaver as far as travel is concerned and brings the expertise very quickly, which is huge, Sengupta said.

Since the robotic tele-ultrasound system allows sonographers to work remotely, it reduces the exposure of providers to infectious diseases like COVID-19, influenza, or to radiation when the study is performed in the catheterization laboratory.

The system also reduces work-related injuries from overuse and repetitive movements from manual ultrasound imaging delivery.

In January 2022, Sengupta said experts in Naveil, France connected the system to the RWJUH and RWJMS Cardiovascular team in New Brunswick, led by Dr. Sengupta. The team tested the limits of The Melody by performing several hours of trans-Atlantic diagnostic ultrasound imaging in real-time over a routine 4G cellular network.

Several more tests still need to be done, as this is a whole new world for sonographers. They need to know how to expertly use the joystick and mouse to move the ultrasound probe precisely. The team also wants to test the quality of the equipment and do a study to see if the treatment is well-received by patients.

Sengupta wants to see where else the equipment can be used, such as in ICU units or the radiation lab so he wants to educate the workforce and get the feedback and then roll out.

The clinical use should start in a month or two, he added.

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