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Robots in health care: FDA approves monitoring device

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the “first autonomous navigation remote presence robot” for use in hospitals. The robot was jointly created by iRobot Corp. and InTouch Health. The robot, known as RP-VITA, will foster remote patient consultations and give doctors the ability to communicate with staff and patients. The RP-VITA has been cleared for patient monitoring during pre-operative, perioperative and post-surgical settings, according to a release from iRobot. The robot was showcased during the recent International Consumer Electronics Show and was noted for its obstacle detection and mapping features.

The Boston Children’s Hospital pilot program used robots for remote patient monitoring and for two-way communication between patients and doctors. This spares patients from having to travel to visit a doctor, which particularly benefits elderly and chronically ill patients. Doctors control the robots, choosing where the robot should be positioned and what data to keep track of for each patient.

Telehealth services, including remote monitoring via robots, are more prevalent due the increasing amount of available reimbursements. Telehealth is useful for doctors who practice in rural areas and treat patients from a wide geographical area. These same doctors often struggle or fail to implement telehealth services due to its prohibitive costs. More payers are identifying the value of telehealth and offering reimbursements for use of the technology.

Telemedicine has grown internationally in response to patients’ need for care specific to their conditions. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC created a telemedicine program for pediatric cardiology, due to the lack of doctors outside of the U.S. with those areas of expertise. Medical staff partnered with a hospital in Cali, Colombia, to advise those primary care physicians on how best to care for the patients in Cali. The two facilities were connected via the Internet and reported no serious technical difficulties during their remote monitoring sessions.

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