New robotic system for treating irregular heartbeat at National University Heart Centre

The National University Heart Centre has introduced a new robotic system that improves accuracy and shortens procedure time in the treatment of irregular heartbeat.

This system, introduced in May, is the first of such systems to be used in Asia, the centre said.

Irregular heartbeat is often due to an electrical "short circuit" in the heart and its muscle cells. Doctors usually insert an electrical wire which delivers radio frequency energy to heat up the heart tissue and destroy abnormal areas. This process, known as ablation, is usually done manually.

The centre can now perform the same procedure using a new robotic system connected to a joystick and a 3D map of the heart. It offers better precision and exposes patients and doctors to less harmful radiation,

Dr Seow Swee Chong, clinical director of the Heart Rhythm Programme at the centre, said the robotic system could imply shorter procedure times and fewer complications for ablation procedures. But an ablation procedure with the new system also costs more for patients. A manual procedure costs about $5,000 for a Class C ward patient while a robotic procedure costs about $8,000.

Dr Seow has used the robotic system on seven patients so far and all have recovered well, he said. The centre performed about 40 complex ablation procedures using manual methods last year.