Long-distance ultrasound exams may not be a far-fetched dream , especially with the recent robotic ultrasound system which is able to perform remote operations with the help of specialists.
ESA is testing the device, which is held against the patient. The ultrasound expert can then move the probe as if present in the examination room, rather than thousands of kilometres away.
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"The guiding principle behind telemedicine is that it is more convenient - and often much less costly - to move knowledge around than people," said Arnaud Runge, a biomedical engineer overseeing the Advanced Robotised Tele-echography Integrated Service (ARTIS) project for ESA.
"Remote access can be vital for astronaut medical emergencies, and the system was originally developed for Earth-based space mission simulations, such as the remote Concordia base in Antarctica.
"But ARTIS can also benefit a very broad community of terrestrial users, improving access to healthcare for people in underserved or isolated areas."
ARTIS lets the remote operator move the robotic probe-holder through yaw, pitch and roll as well as instruct the holder to modify the ultrasound probe's pressure on the patient's body.
The system includes an integrated videconferencing option with remote-controllable webcam so the expert can watch the device being applied.
This end-to-end tele-ultrasound service has undergone a series of field trials by healthcare professionals in a variety of configurations, including the use of satellite communications.
"This brings in a couple of seconds delay but ultrasound professionals have adapted well in practice," Runge explained.