The most expensive way to deliver care is in a hospital – but discharging patients too soon can lead to complications and rehospitalizations. That’s where robots can help – and sometimes a robot can be as simple as a video/audio system that can roll around under remote control, transmitting communications over a Verizon 4G cellular network.
Instead of having to drag kids back to the hospital for frequent office checks after surgery, Hiep Nguyen, a urologist/surgeon at Children’s Hospital Boston, can call the family at home and do the check remotely. You’d think it might feel impersonal and alienating, but the opposite seems to be true. “Families love the robot,” says Nguyen. “They feel secure that they have a lifeline to their doctor.”
In this pilot project, the robot, made by VGo Communications and described in yesterday’s Boston Globe, is mainly providing videoconferencing. Eventually Nguyen hopes to add equipment to blood pressure, heart rate, glucose level and lung function and analyze urine samples.
But even the videoconferencing is powerful. Rolling around the house, the robot provides a roving eye. “You can see the patient in his natural environment, see that he’s uncomfortable,” says Nguyen, who directs Robotic Surgery Research and Training at Children’s. “You can see the kid taking his medication wrong, or you might see a very full urine bag, and you can ask, ‘When did you last drain it? You should drain it more frequently.’” Parents can pull out their child’s temporary stent while Nguyen observes and talks them through what’s usually a 2-second procedure in the office.
Nguyen thinks telemedicine systems, by virtue of being in the child’s home, transforms families’ roles and their attitude toward their children’s care. As he wrote recently on this blog, it’s one of the main advantages he sees in playing with robots.
“This kind of care engages the family,” he says. “Right now, most parents approach healthcare for their child like leaving their car with a mechanic. With the robot, parents become responsible for the healthcare of their child, and can proactively prevent problems.”
To get an idea of what it’s like to use this type of system, check out this clip, where a VGo robot is enabling a homebound child to attend school virtually: