Robotic ultrasound technology now being used in remote Saskatchewan communities

The new system piloted during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic also reduced the risk of transmission for health care workers and patients.
By: Alison Larabie Chase
September 18, 2020
The telerobotic ultrasound system at work. Photo: Canadian Medical Association.

La Loche, Saskatchewan, has just 2,300 inhabitants who often needed to travel as far as 500 kilometres to get an ultrasound if they couldn’t get an appointment the one day a month that a sonographer was in town. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, this remote community was hit hard, and travel became much riskier for both patients and medical staff.

So radiologist Dr. Scott Adams and his team at the University of Saskatchewan decided it was time to try out the remote telerobotic ultrasound system they had been working on since 2017. It includes a robot arm that can be manipulated by a sonographer and radiologist in Saskatoon to perform an ultrasound on a patient in a remote exam room. It’s paired with videoconferencing, so the patient and sonographer can talk to one another, and a system to archive the images for interpretation later on. Only limited bandwidth is needed to run the system, which makes it useful even in the parts of Canada where internet service is not robust.

The telerobotic ultrasound system has been so successful that it is now in use in two other remote Saskatchewan communities, Stony Rapids and Pelican Narrows. Dr. Adams says this system will “improve access to diagnostic ultrasound imaging, increase patient safety and reduce health inequities during the pandemic and long after it ends.”

Source: Canadian Medical Association