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Saskatoon to Gravelbourg: telerobotic ultrasounds a first

New tech opens up diagnostic care to Sask. rural and remote communities

GRAVELBOURG – St. Joseph’s Hospital has received some of the most cutting-edge diagnostics equipment around. Back in November of 2022, the hospital received the MELODY Telerobitic Ultrasound System as part of an existing new research initiative. The goal of the program is to improve rural access to diagnostic care, benefiting paediatric and maternal patients through virtual ultrasound scanning.

“I'm pleased to see innovative and cutting-edge technology now being introduced in rural communities like Gravelbourg to benefit the healthcare received by mothers and babies locally," said Rural and Remote Health Minister Everett Hindley. "As we have seen in northern communities like La Loche, Stony Rapids and Pelican Narrows, this important research advances patient care, and also uses our health system resources effectively while integrating with local services.”

It’s a first on the national scale, and the Virtual Care and Robotics program research lab at the U of S is the only initiative of it’s kind to use the MELODY system in North America. It’s also being boasted as the “largest telerobotic ultrasound program in the world.”

“We are excited to deploy a telerobotic ultrasound system in southern Saskatchewan,” said Dr. Ivar Mendez, Professor of Surgery and Director of the Virtual Care and Remote Presence Robotics Program. “This research project will study the benefits for patients in the region of a state-of-the-art virtual care robotic technology installed at St Joseph’s Hospital in Gravelbourg. We are proud that Saskatchewan is leading the way in the use of advanced diagnostic ultrasound virtual care technologies in Canada and globally.”

So what does such a complicated-sounding system actually do? In essence, the MELODY telerobotic ultrasound system lets a sonographer based in a centralized location use a probe to remotely perform an ultrasound in a location a great distance away. This means people living outside of a city don’t need to drive several hours for their appointment - cutting down costly long drives.

So far in Gravelbourg, more than 300 ultrasound scans were performed through the MELODY system - with 80 per cent of those being obstetrical ultrasounds. 

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority is committed to healthy mothers, healthy babies and healthy families,” said Derek Miller, Chief Operating Officer, Saskatchewan Health Authority. “Research that supports access to remote ultrasounds will not only provide care closer to home, but support access to early prenatal care that maternal care providers will utilize to help families achieve the best outcomes for mother and for baby.”

Programs such as these do come at a significant financial cost, and the lab came to fruition with generous contributions from Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation, Virtual Care and Robotics Program, and a gift in kind from AdEchoTech.

“The telerobotic ultrasound research initiative lead by Dr. Mendez and his team is making innovative strives for health care delivery to families in our province,” said Brynn Boback-Lane, CEO & President, Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation is proud to partner with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the Virtual Care and Robotics Program, and St. Joseph’s Hospital, as we work together to enhance prenatal and pediatric patient care throughout Saskatchewan.”

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