Dr Eric Lefebvre is the head of AdEchoTech, a French company trying to enter the Arab region with its telemedicine system. The company designs, manufactures and distributes a robotic tele-echography solution called Melody that takes pictures of internal organs. Dr Lefebvre, attending this week's Arab Health conference in Dubai, spoke about the company's technology.
What is the robotised tele-echography system all about?
When there is a need for an echography, but no expert is available in the proximity of the patient, Melody enables the patient to get a medical opinion. If a pregnant woman cannot get to a doctor because of the distance, a remote medical staff will use Melodyto control real-time echography, hence enabling the diagnosis. The echography image would reach a doctor in real time.
How did AdEchoTech develop the system?
Melody is based on the robotic tele-echography concept, which was created by Professor [Philippe] Arbeille of University Hospital of Tours in France in collaboration with the European Space Agency and University of Bourges in France. These studies began 15 years ago, and AdEchoTech used the results to build Melody. It is designed by AdEchoTech, which was created in 2008.
Which markets seem ripe for Melody?
Middle East is one that AdEchoTech sees as a prime market because of the vast area that Middle East and North Africa market is and with very few doctors and experts in the region. Also, in instances where women need to be diagnosed only by women such as in Saudi Arabia, Melody would be useful. The UAE and Saudi Arabia stand quite apart from the rest of the [Arabian Gulf] as both want to become medical destinations. However, we do not underestimate Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. They all have great facilities but lack [medical] expertise on the ground and patients are spread out over vast areas.
How much have you invested in Melody?
Around €1 million [Dh4.9m] has been injected in AdEchoTech to develop Melody in France since 2008. The first prototype was created at the end of 2009. In December 2012 we got the CE mark [European market approval] to industrialise Melody, and started manufacturing and distributing at the beginning of January 2013.
What would be the cost of Melody?
For satellite hospitals it would be around €80,000 and for the bigger hospitals it would be around €20,000, because the satellite hospital is connecting to an expert in a bigger hospital. But usually, it is the bigger hospital which pays the entire cost because they can reach out to more patients. We hope to see 20 to 30 machines in the Middle East in two to five years.
Where is this system being used?
It is in use in eight places across the world, including French Guiana, Cyprus and several places in France. We are beginning to ask for it being used in prisons. It takes €2,000 to extract a prisoner [out of the prison] and do an echography of an inmate. We have started a new project for the European Space Agency for the development of the next generation of robotic arm for tele-echography.