Blog | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Robots bring care to remote places


Both in the United States and around the globe there is a mismatch between needed medical care and the doctors who can provide it. Most physicians are located in urban areas where there are hospitals, teaching schools, lab and X-ray and specialists to deal with most every medical condition. Rural areas in the United States lack these resources and patients either do without, or must travel far to be seen. In developing countries there may be no services at all for hundreds of miles. That is where telehealth can play a huge role in bringing medicine to the people.

Image by In-TouchThe "In-Touch" robot is one technology that can work all over the world. Through a simple laptop computer a doctor and reach out across the globe and "see and be seen" by the patient and have a conversation with the patient. The robot is mobile and can be remotely navigated from room to room (or hospital bed to hospital bed) and "visit" the patient. A dermatologist can see the skin and recommend treatment. The robot can perform electronic stethoscope, otoscope and ultrasound and transmit that data back to the physician.

We are using this technology to provide care to rural community hospitals in Northern California that cannot get certain specialists in the community. We are also able to provide remote night medical coverage so patients can stay in their own community and not be transferred to larger hospitals for care. Many conditions can be managed well in the rural hospital with physician expertise to evaluate the patient and prescribe treatment. Patients and their families love it and it saves in cost, transportation and inconvenience.

The robot is also providing needed expert consultation for a hospital in Haiti and a rural hospital in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Specialists are donating their time to be "on call" and provide support to the patients and care-givers there. Imagine the benefit of having consultation for a high-risk pregnancy or neurology or pediatrics or any number of medical conditions.

I wrote about this technology way back in 2007 and now the robot is being used far and wide.

This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.