A high-tech computer, a joystick, sound effects and three large computer monitors. No, it is not the latest video game. Instead, it's a new robotic catheter system used at Emory Crawford Long Hospital to treat irregular or abnormal heartbeats. The hospital, part of Emory Healthcare, is the first in the Southeast to use the new system.
Called the Sensei, the robotic catheter system is used to treat patients with arrhythmias, a heart condition where electrical impulses of the heart are abnormal. These abnormalities can cause the heart rate to be too slow or too fast, or sometimes, the heart rhythm can be erratic.
"This new robotic system offers more precise movements and stability when guiding a catheter through the heart for radiofrequency ablation," says David DeLurgio, MD, director of the electrophysiology labs at Emory Crawford Long Hospital. "The system is also operated remotely and allows the physician to sit during the procedure, which helps doctors reduce fatigue during long or multiple cases."
Radiofrequency ablation is a nonsurgical procedure used to treat some types of arrhythmias, particularly rapid and uncoordinated heartbeats. It's the preferred treatment for this disorder and has a success rate of over 90 percent, along with low risks of complications.
Using live X-ray, a doctor guides the robotic catheter with an electrode at its tip into the heart. Then the doctor places the tip at the exact site inside the heart where cells are giving off electrical signals that stimulate the abnormal heart rhythm. Mild and painless radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) is transmitted to the target area. This destroys carefully selected heart muscle cells in a very small area (about 1/5 inch). The treatment stops the area from conducting the extra impulses that cause the rapid heartbeats.
"We've been doing manual radiofrequency ablation for various arrhythmias for 15 years at Emory Crawford Long Hospital, because it is tried and true," says DeLurgio, an associate professor of medicine (cardiology), Emory University School of Medicine. "The benefits of now using the robotic catheter are its accuracy and improved control over the tip of the catheter."
Another benefit is reducing the doctor's exposure to radiation from the live X-rays, because the system is remote. Electrophysiologists like DeLurgio can do as many as five cases each day, so exposure reduction is a plus.
"Because Emory Crawford Long Hospital's Heart and Vascular Center is a high-volume heart center, performing nearly 500 ablation cases a year, this new technology will be advantageous to both our patients and doctors," says DeLurgio.
The robotic catheter is made by Hansen Medical and is covered by most insurance companies.