RWJBH is first in U.S. to deploy robotic telecardiac ultrasound technology

Successful trans-Atlantic cardiac sonogram testing, through the MELODY system, offers view into future of remote-enabled heart care

Look beyond the fact that the first MELODY robotic teleultrasound system to be utilized in the U.S. arrived in New Jersey last week.

And that the system — which features a robotic arm, an ultrasound machine and video conferencing technology that can connect the patient to doctors in another state or country — already had a successful trans-Atlantic test between officials at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and in France.

The significance of the MELODY lies in what is ahead — a time when patients in so-called “health deserts” can get a diagnosis that could save their life.

Officials at RWJBarnabas Health feel the MELODY robotic telecardiac ultrasound technology opens the door for providing patients with more access to expert diagnostic imaging in a convenient, telehealth delivery model.

That’s how Dr. Partho Sengupta, the Henry Rutgers Professor of Cardiology and chief of the Division of Cardiology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and chief of Cardiology at RWJUH, sees it.

Sengupta and other health care experts envision a day when such technology is commonplace in rural community hospitals, pharmacies, rehabilitation facilities or even senior living locations.

“Imagine that a patient comes to an emergency department in the middle of the night and there are no sonographers present to perform the imaging exam that he or she needs,” he said. “In the very near future, we can connect with a sonographer at another hospital or from their home to perform a cardiac ultrasound exam that could be lifesaving.”

Sengupta feels making advanced diagnostic imaging capabilities available to patients in remote locations also may prove to be a game-changer in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

“Many cardiovascular diseases remain undetected for a long time and can be silent killers,” he said. “Combining robotic teleultrasound technology with new and existing AI capabilities will provide us with a tremendous opportunity for early detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease in our communities, and help us save lives.”

This system, which is being successfully used in Europe and Canada, has been approved for clinical use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. The technology benefits patients through:

  • Improved access to diagnostic ultrasound imaging expertise in real time;
  • Facilitation of earlier disease detection;
  • Reduced travel times and transport costs.

Benefits to health care professionals are significant and include:

  • Reduction in work-related injury from overuse and repetitive movements from manual ultrasound imaging delivery;
  • Addressing the chronic shortage of ultrasound technologists and sonographers in health care today, nationwide;
  • Reduction in exposure of providers to infectious diseases such as COVID-19 or influenza, or to radiation when the study is performed in the catheterization laboratory.

Sengupta saw the potential of the MELODY firsthand in late January, when his team in New Jersey tested the limits of the system by performing several hours of trans-Atlantic diagnostic ultrasound imaging in real time over a routine 4G cellular network.

RWJUH and RWJMS clinicians, along with representatives from AdEcho Tech performed the successful trans-Atlantic robotic cardiac teleultrasound test. That test was followed the next day by successful ultrasounds at RWJUH.

Over the next two months, the team will work with sonographers to implement the technology for clinical care in order to make it available to the public later this year.