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Feb 7 2012   3:41PM GMT

Batteries included: Robots aiding in virtual care, expand telehealth continuum

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
Mobile devices and telehealth, Teleheatlh, Telepresence

“It’s like Skype on wheels!” was how Dr. Brian Rosman described the no longer space-age robots currently in pilot at Children’s Hospital Boston (CHB) during the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium’s HIT’12: Future of Health IT conference on Feb. 3, 2012.  Rosman, who was part of a panel of experts at the event, discussed “Cutting Edge Technologies in Genomics, Robotics and Medical Care,” and shared some truly innovative ways that CHB is breaking from the brick and mortar model to increase patient satisfaction and expand the care continuum through telehealth technologies.

Rosman’s enthusiasm about CHB’s telepresence robot pilot was contagious as he highlighted the many benefits that these R2D2-esque devices provide. The robots, physician-controlled machines that stand at approximately 4 and a half feet tall and look similar to a miniature Segway, offer monitoring tools and two-way video communication unlike anything CHB has used before. The benefits of the robots, manufactured by VGo Communications, are only further solidified by the overwhelmingly positive response from clinicians and patients alike — and in CHB’s case, the latter refers to the parents as well.

Using the robots means that physicians are able to employ remote patient monitoring and conduct virtual visits, which can be a huge benefit to many patient populations, including seniors and chronically ill individuals. It can also mean the difference between going home and staying in a hotel for weeks at a time to patients and families living in rural areas.

Given that each robot is also completely reusable and customizable, it is easy to tailor and update each machine to manage each patient’s condition. This type of standardization is key to ensuring that the standards of care are not sacrificed and each patient is treated with the same degree of quality as they would in an office setting. And because all of the machines are running on Verizon’s 4G LTE network and only require an electrical outlet to work, they are truly turnkey in nature and automated enough for people to feel comfortable using in their own homes.

One of the most important benefits of the robots’ telepresence is improved communication between physicians and patients.  Since the physician maintains control of the robot, they are able to manually point the camera where it needs to be, instead of a parent trying to dangle a child in front of a webcam. Rosman also noted the benefits of non-verbal communication. Parents felt that their care providers were truly listening because they could see their faces and maintain eye contact, a luxury that is lost when communicating via phone or email. Most importantly, it allowed a way for parents to easily ask questions during post-operative care, a time where having direct connection to a physician becomes an invaluable resource to a concerned parent.

Whether you are comfortable with the idea of telehealth technologies taking a primary role in your care delivery or not, the benefits are becoming harder to ignore, especially when looking at remote monitoring capabilities and the limitations of certain patient populations. With the silver tsunami of baby boomers approaching the shore at full speed, there is no better time than now to embrace these technologies and push the care continuum to the virtual space.

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