Portable 3D tele-ultrasound screens pregnant women on Indian reservations

Richland 18 March 2002Pregnant women living on South Dakota Indian reservations where infant mortality rates are more than twice the United States' national average will receive speciality care under the first commercial test of a telehealth system called MUSTPAC-3, the third version of the Medical Ultrasound, Three-dimensional and Portable with Advanced Communications.

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This state-of-the-art portable ultrasound system was developed at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received a grant from the Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service to determine if telehealth could improve treatment of pregnant women.

Through this grant, PNNL researchers have installed MUSTPAC-3 on two Indian reservations in South Dakota and trained health care providers to use them. The MUSTPAC systems will be deployed at clinics operated by Indian Health Service, which works with Avera McKennan, to provide health care to women who live in the reservation communities of Pine Ridge and Rosebud.

Health care providers at these clinics will use MUSTPAC-3 to monitor 100 women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy. Information obtained through these studies will be used in the FDA approval process for MUSTPAC-3. MUSTPAC-3 stations will be deployed at the reservations' clinics for data acquisition while a station will be installed at Avera McKennan in Sioux Falls for diagnosis.

"The ideal result of this study would be reduced foetal and newborn mortality through better treatment for women earlier in the pregnancy", commented Deb Soholt, director of women's health for Avera McKennan. "Telemedicine may be the best method for accomplishing that. We are hopeful the FDA will approve MUSTPAC-3 for commercial use."

Pregnant women on these reservations have limited access to specialists, which often means problems aren't detected until late in the pregnancy when treatment is more difficult, costly or complicated. Pine Ridge and Rosebud had mean infant mortality rates considerably higher than the United States' latest rate of 8,5 per 1000 live births from 1990-1994, with rates of 25,1 and 18,5 respectively.

"Our system requires little training and is easy to operate", stated Laura Curtis, PNNL project manager. "A nurse with limited training can use a probe to scan a woman's lower abdomen and transmit the images to a specialist by telephone line. A specialist can make a diagnosis using these 3D images even if the patient is hundreds of miles away."

Pine Ridge and Rosebud are 350 and 240 miles respectively from Sioux Falls, which houses the state's only perinatologists, or obstetricians with special training in high-risk pregnancies. MUSTPAC-3 research principal investigator, Dr. Gary Helmbrecht from Avera McKennan Maternal Foetal Medicine stated: "It is truly exciting to be a leader in bringing cutting-edge technology to rural areas. PNNL's technology allows us to reach patients who might not otherwise have access to tertiary services."

PNNL developed MUSTPAC-3 for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and tested the system in Bosnia in 1996. The system won the Discover Award in 1997 for technological innovation in computer hardware and electronics. PNNL is one of DOE's nine multi-programme national laboratories and conducts research in the fields of environment, energy, health sciences, and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated PNNL since 1965.


Leslie Versweyveld

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