Dec 3 2013
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The “Next Best Thing” to Being There: Robots Expand Physicians’ Reach

Telepresence robots are expanding access to specialists in rural hospitals experiencing shortages of physicians, and in other hospitals throughout the country, reports the Associated Press.

Devices such as the RP-VITA, introduced earlier this year, can be controlled remotely with a desktop computer, laptop, or iPad, allowing physicians to interact with patients through video-conferencing via a large screen that projects the doctor's face. An auto-drive function allows the robot to find its way to patients' rooms, and sensors help it avoid obstacles. It also gives the physician access to clinical data and medical images.

Dignity Health, a hospital system with facilities in Arizona, California, and Nevada, started using telepresence robots five years ago to promptly evaluate patients who had potentially suffered strokes.  Dignity now has robots in emergency rooms and intensive care units at about 20 California hospitals, giving them access to specialists in areas such as neurology, cardiology, neonatology, pediatrics, and mental health.

"It's just like being with the patient in the room," a stroke specialist at Dignity Health told the Associated Press. "Of course, nothing can replace seeing these patients in person, but it's the next best thing."

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

Read the Associated Press article.

Tags: Health Care Access, Health Data and IT, Rural, Underserved Populations