Children and parents connect with home robots that "embody" their health care provider. (Image submitted by a patient at Children's Hospital Boston)
Robotic technology can take many forms. In the Department of Urology at Children’s Hospital Boston, we are evaluating a remotely controlled, videoconferencing robot on wheels to help transition our patients’ care to the home after surgery. This transition is a time of significant anxiety for all. In the hospital, children have around-the-clock care and monitoring; after discharge, families tend to lose contact with their physicians and nurses unless there is a problem or complication.
The robot we’re testing, the VGo, allows us to make virtual house calls. As children recover in familiar and comfortable surroundings, with their families around them, we can talk to them, monitor them, view their home environment, help parents assess their child’s status and answer their questions and concerns. We can sometimes identify errors and avoid complications before they require emergent and costly medical attention.
We’re often asked why we use this mobile robotic system, a relatively new and costly technology, rather than established, less expensive alternatives such as cell phones or computer-based videoconferencing programs like Skype or Facetime. Full story »
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.”
Hospital innovators are beginning to turn to robotic systems – some as simple as a cell phone that enables video conferencing between doctor and patient – to enhance patient care and lower costs (see yesterday’s post). The Child Life department at Children’s Hospital Boston asked kids staying at the hospital to share their ideas for robots that could help them and assist their doctors and nurses. A few hospital staff got in the spirit, too. At left and below are a few of their submissions. Click to enlarge them.
>>>Designed first with legos, “Harold” has two antennae that function both as hands and an FM radio, so it can help carry things around the hospital while rockin’ to some tunes. Full story »
This robot, proposed by a patient at Children's Hospital Boston, would check vitals and tell stories.
It can’t be ignored that dramatic transformation in our healthcare system is imminent. The economy, market forces and increasing political demands will soon force physicians and healthcare professionals to change how we take care of our patients. Just as the days of housecalls are gone, so is our current system of delivering care.
The rising cost of healthcare now has the government and insurance companies placing more emphasis on controlling costs, sometimes at the expense of quality. They demand that we become more efficient and manage an even greater number of patients. Advancements in medical technology are believed to be a principal cause of the rising cost of healthcare: While they have improved patient care, they often come with a high price tag.
Does that mean we should abandon them? My answer is to play with robots. Full story »
A sequence of motion frames of a normally kicking baby's legs (shown in blue and green), illustrating changing joint angles at the hip and knee.
Countless scientific epiphanies never leave the bench – unless there’s the kind of serendipitous encounter that set Children’s Hospital Boston psychologist Gene Goldfield on a path he never expected to follow.
One in eight babies are born prematurely, putting them at greater risk for cerebral palsy, an inability to fully control their muscles. Goldfield saw these children being wheeled around the hospital, and was convinced that they did not have to be wheelchair-bound.
During early infancy, he knew, the developing brain naturally undergoes a rewiring of its circuits, including those that control the muscles. Could some type of early intervention encourage more typical motor development by replacing damaged circuits with more functional connections?
It began as a proof-of-principle demonstrated with LEGOs – a surgical biopsy needle whose motor is driven solely by a clinical MRI scanner:
The above demo shows that an MRI machine’s magnetic field can be programmed to produce enough force to control a robotic instrument — an accomplishment with broad potential in medicine. In the demo, the scanner’s magnetic field swings a rotating arm, and a set of gears convert that motion into the motion of a biopsy needle, strong enough to puncture the tough outer tissue of an animal heart and then withdraw. All parts exposed to the magnetic field are metal-free and MRI-compatible.
While MRI-compatible robots have been built before, this was the first demo of a motor powered by MRI, says Pierre Dupont, chief of Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering at Children’s Hospital Boston. His engineering team was one of five finalists for Best Paper Award — out of 790 papers presented — at last week’s International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2011). Full story »
During breaks at TEDMED, Children’s Hospital Boston is demonstrating a sampling of its technologies. Medgadget, the Internet Journal of Emerging Medical Technologies, came by to watch and posted these videos.
Above, Children’s engineer Pierre Dupont describes a new way of fixing children’s hearts — with enhanced, robot-guided catheters and tiny surgical tools that he’s developing with Pedro del Nido, chief of Cardiac Surgery. We hope these tools (shown at their true miniscule size and in large models) and the robotic system driving them will allow children, especially babies, avoid the rigors of open-heart surgery. Instead, a short-stay catheterization procedure could be performed while their hearts are still beating.
Here, Children’s epidemiologist-informatician John Brownstein explains some of the new features of HealthMap, an Internet-based infectious-disease tracking system. He zeroes in on Haiti’s emerging cholera outbreak, in which a “crisis mappers” community on the ground is sending real-time data to HealthMap via iPhone and iPad.
Read more about innovations at Children’s on our website, and stay with Vectorblog and our Twitter feed (@science4care) for continuing TEDMED coverage.
Move over, Ozzy Ozbourne. Next Wednesday, October 27th, Children’s neurologist-neuroscientist and TEDMED speaker Frances Jensen will compare and contrast the developing infant brain with the highly paradoxical teen brain – which is also developing rapidly, all the way to age 25 or so. Infant and teen brains are at opposite ends of the developmental spectrum — almost different species, Jensen says – but they’re both extremely dynamic and exquisitely sensitive to environmental factors (drugs and alcohol in teens and brain injury and seizures in infants). Full story »
The seemingly random flailing of a newborn’s arms and legs is more important than it looks – it’s how babies begin to explore the physical world and their place in it. This motion-capture movie shows the normal kicking of a 5-month-old, but when a baby’s muscles are weakened by brain injury, this exploration is curtailed. It becomes a vicious cycle: the motor parts of the brain can’t develop properly, impairing mobility even further. Psychologist Eugene Goldfield, PhD, of the Center for Behavioral Science at Children’s Hospital Boston, with a team of engineers and scientists at the Wyss Institute, is in the early stages of a project that could help break this cycle for babies with cerebral palsy.
Goldfield calls it the “second skin” – smart clothing whose fabric, studded with tiny sensors, would pick up attempts at motion. Full story »