Robots can extend a physician’s reach and expertise

Through advances in telemedicine, in-demand specialists can reach those in need without having to transport the patient—or the physician—to other facilities.

By By David Geer | Fall 2010 | Tech Notes

 

Today, telemedicine enables physicians to extend their presence and reach to multiple locations in the form of robots that see, hear, speak and interact with patients and staff.

InTouch Health has the only FDA-cleared remote presence (RP) products on the market, such as the RP-7i (and predecessor RP-7), which connect directly to Class II medical devices including electronic stethoscopes, otoscopes and ultrasound. This enables physicians to diagnose and consult with patients from a distance.

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Thanks to the robotic technology, specialists in demand for stroke, ICU care and pediatrics reach patients they otherwise might not. Burn victims, heart patients, psychiatric patients and trauma patients benefit as well.

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Robot

To accomplish examinations and consultations, the robot's head pans and tilts, giving the doctor a complete view of his surroundings. The robot's camera, monitor/display, microphone and speaker extend the doctor's natural senses while ensuring that the doctor is seen and heard, as well.

For example, the Brooke Army Medical Center Burn ICU employs the robots to assess burn victims from as far away as Baghdad, says Jennifer Neisse, marketing communications manager for InTouch Health, headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif. The robot’s camera zooms in from multiple angles on skin sections affected with burns for accurate, immediate examination.

Cardiologists facilitate distant monthly cardiology and echocardiogram consults through the robots. Remote hospital staff plug ultrasound devices directly into the robot’s video ports for the cardiologist’s use. Trauma units use the robots to make up for the shortage of trauma doctors. And psychiatrists reach out to rural areas through the robots, providing consultations.

PracticeLink spoke with three physicians specializing in neurology and pediatrics who have made extensive use of RP robots.

Neurologist offers urgent care robotically

Dr. Paul M. Vespa, M.D., director of the Neurocritical Care Program at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, has relied on the RP-7 and now the RP-7i remote presence robots for a total of more than five years. Vespa uses the robots in the neuro ICU as he visits, diagnoses and treats neurosurgical and stroke patients.

Via the RP-7i model, Vespa speeds down clinic and hospital hallways at the patient’s side as staff transport them on gurneys.

Three balls in the robot’s base, each one six inches in diameter, enable this precise locomotion. Motors drive the balls, which also spin passively when following another ball’s lead. The robots maneuver accurately in tight spaces without bumping into walls or people.

In the big picture, the robots help Vespa address the shortage of ICU practitioners available to physically enter the ICU. When needed, Vespa drives the RP-7i model robots into the neuro ICU to offer immediate care to critical stroke victims.

To accomplish examinations and consultations, the robot’s head pans and tilts, giving the doctor a complete view of his surroundings. The robot’s camera, monitor/display, microphone and speaker extend the doctor’s natural senses while ensuring that the doctor is seen and heard, as well. The robot’s audio capabilities enable the physician to tune in to specific sounds or conversations, as if he were in the room himself.

The RP-7i brings Vespa up close to observe and monitor patient response to medicines and treatments in real time. “Rather than ordering a medicine and coming back the next day to see whether it worked, I can see that right away,” he says.

This saves time for the patients, speeds care as the doctor shifts treatment to another medicine more quickly, and even changes outcomes. “By moving more quickly to an approach that works, we can save the patient’s life,” Vespa says.

 

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