Thanks to new remote-controlled robots, introduced in hospitals across California and some other US states, doctors are now able to “beam” themselves into patients’ rooms and offer medical advice during emergencies.
The physician can log into the device by using a computer, laptop or tablet. A two-way video system allows the doctor and the patient to conduct a consultation. The robot has an auto-drive function that allows it to navigate to the patient’s room, using sensors to avoid bumping into things or people.
“It allows for very quick evaluation of these patients, so it’s just like being with the patient in the room. Of course, nothing can replace seeing these patients in person, but it’s the next best thing,” says Doctor Asad Chaudhary, stroke neurologist at the Mercy Medical Group.
A growing number of hospitals are using remote presence robots to expand access to medical specialists, especially in rural areas where there is a shortage of doctors. The physician can’t touch the patient, but there is always a nurse or medical assistant on-site to help if needed.
“I think that the technology enables us to be virtually present in the clinical environment. There is a limitation in our inability to touch the patient, but as far as a clinical evaluation, taking a history, making a really good clinical decision and making sure there’s the best outcome for that patient, I think it’s very close,” says Alan Shatzel, Medical Director of the Mercy Telehealth Network.
While the advantages of using these robots are undeniable, especially in medical emergencies, critics are pointing to the high cost.
Others have also raised security concerns over potential leaks of data gathered by a remote-controlled device crawling around a research laboratory, for instance.