Ultrasound examination of the heart, known as echocardiography, is of major importance to establish or rule out certain heart diseases. Echocardiography is only offered at the county's hospitals and to address this limitation, researchers from Skellefteå hospital have developed a method whereby a cardiac ultrasound examination can be executed from a distance in conjunction with a cardiologist consultation. This is made possible by a robotic arm holding the probe of an ultrasound system located in Storuman cottage hospital, which can be remotely controlled by an experienced biomedical scientist at Skellefteå hospital with support from several video cameras. During the ultrasound examination, the patient is accompanied by a local nurse and can communicate with the operator through one of the video screens. When the examination is complete, the patients GP and the cardiologist join the meeting to evaluate and discuss the results. All communication, including video communication and control of the robot goes via the County Council's network. The image from the ultrasound system, along with the video from three cameras in the room, is sent to the operator via streaming technology.
The concept was developed within an EU project called HeartNet (2001-2006) and has subsequently been further developed and evaluated both in projects as well as in ordinary operations. The approach has been thoroughly evaluated and shows, among other things, a sensible use of economic resources and quality gains through significantly shorter lead times to diagnosis and treatment compared to traditional care. In 2014, a randomised controlled study with 38 subjects was published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
This text has been originally released in the following report: Telemedicine Survey in the County Council of Västerbotten -An analysis of the present situation, conditions and areas of improvement.