Remote-Controlled Robots Now Offer Long Distance Medical Care

I'd like to preface today's piece with a simple question. How would you feel if you went to the doctor and found yourself being treated by a robot, instead? What if that robot were being operated remotely by a trained medical professional?

A number of hospitals across the United States have, for the past five years, been utilizing machines known as telepresence robots. Basically, they're conference screens on wheels; each robot stands at around five feet, with a large screen to project the doctor's face, a microphone to receive the patient's testimony and several speakers that allow him or her to respond.  They also look slightly unsettling, though I can't quite put my finger on why.

The remote-controlled machines - known as RP-VITAs - were jointly developed by InTouch Health and iRobot Corporation. The first hospital chain to start making use of them was Dignity Health, an organization which owns and operates hospitals in the states of California, Nevada, and Arizona. The group first began using the telemedicine robots to diagnose strokes in order to ensure the patients could be treated as quickly as possible, minimizing the risk of severe brain damage.

The robots were a hit, and now see use in emergency rooms and intensive care units in about twenty hospitals across California. This gives these hospitals access to a wide array of different specialists which might otherwise be absent. 

"Regardless of where the patient is located, we can be at their bedside in several minutes," explained Dr. Alan Shatzel, Mercy Telehealth Network medical director. "Literally, we compress time and space with this technology. No longer does distance affect a person's ability to access the best care possible." 

Dignity Health isn't the only chain to start using this medical technology, either. Several other chains have begun using the robots, which have been officially approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. 

"Hospitals are now using this type of technology in order to leverage the specialists they have even better and more efficiently," noted InTouch Health CEO Dr. Yulun Wang. 

With RP-VITAs, your location need no longer impact the sort of care you receive. Doctor's can simply log into the RP-VITA site from wherever they happen to be located, at which point the robot's auto-drive function will allow it to navigate to the patient that needs treatment.

"It's just like being with the patient in the room," said Dr. Asad Chaudhary. "Of course, nothing can replace seeing patients in person, but it's the next best thing." 

So, I'll ask you again. How would you feel if a robot provided you with medical care? 

Via Press Democrat