January 26, 2023

New Telerobotic System Research Initiative in Southern Saskatchewan Shaping the Future of Health Care for Expectant Families

A new research initiative and telerobotics system is enhancing our provincial health system’s ability to determine the feasibility of improved rural and remote access to diagnostic care for pediatric and maternal patients through virtual ultrasound scanning.

Left: Patient Side Assistant. Right: Patient in Gravelbourg receiving ultrasound via telerobotics.

In November 2022, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Gravelbourg, SK received the MELODY Telerobotic Ultrasound System as part of an exciting new research initiative. To date, over 300 ultrasound scans have been successfully performed using the MELODY system as part of this research project, with approximately 80% of these studies being obstetrical ultrasounds.

“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.”

The Virtual Care and Robotics Program research lab at the University of Saskatchewan, under the leadership of Dr. Ivar Mendez, is the first and only initiative in Canada to offer research-based use of the MELODY Telerobotic Ultrasound System in North America and is 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.”

Sonographer, Nadine Kanigan in Saskatoon.

This research is aimed to improve access and patient experience in rural and remote communities. In addition to Gravelbourg, the telerobotic ultrasound research initiative has successfully deployed this technology in three northern Indigenous communities, including Stony Rapids, La Loche and Pelican Narrows. The MELODY telerobotic ultrasound system allows a sonographer based at a central location to manipulate a probe and remotely perform an ultrasound to distant sites, without the patient having to travel long distances to receive the care they need. 

“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.”

Sonographer, Nadine Kanigan in Saskatoon.

The MELODY Telerobotic Ultrasound System utilized in the Virtual Care and Robotics Program research lab was made possible through 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.”

The MELODY Telerobotic Ultrasound System is state-of-the-art technology that is shaping the future of virtual care technologies for patients across Saskatchewan.

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