Would You See An iRobot Doc in the ER?

What if you were sitting in an examination room and a robot walked through the door? Would you jump? Would you engage with it? No matter how you may feel, telepresence healthcare – using virtual reality technology – may be coming to a hospital near you.

RP-VITA (Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant), unveiled recently at the Clinical Innovations Forum in Santa Barbara, California, is a remote-controlled telepresence robot that combines “telemedicine” technology without the need for continuous human guidance.

RP-VITA is controlled by a joystick but has some awareness of its environment via an array of sensors, similar to the Kinect on an X-Box 360 video console. It has two cameras that together equal normal human vision and a built-in map of the hospital, so it knows where to go and where to recharge.

The robot has a large screen where the attending doctor’s face will appear. That doctor can be anywhere in the world as long as there’s an Internet connection and accessible webcam. A doctor can even connect via an iPad. When the doctor logs off, RP-VITA, which gets about five hours of activity on a charge, automatically returns to the base.

For now, RP-VITA is designed only for urgent care in the ER and ICU. Once RP-VITA is in place, it can use local Wi-Fi and a cloud-based medical record system to collect patient data with another caregiver present. It is even able to check vital signs via connected octoscopes, ultrasound devices and a built-in stethoscope. All the information is then collected, encrypted, sent through a telemedicine system and shared with the attending doctor, who is controlling the robot from a remote location.

The FDA, expected to give its approval for use in hospitals by year’s end, is currently beta tested in some ERs around the country. The ultimate goal of the robot is to improve access and lower costs at the same time.

This is just another way technology is changing medicine. For more information on how we can help bring new technology into your healthcare facility, call 305-350-5700 or visit waxcom.com.

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