Paging Dr. Robot, the Hospital Assistant with a Human Face

How would you feel if you woke up in the hospital, post-surgery, and hear your doctor talking.  But instead of looking at a human doctor, you are face-to-face with a machine that has your doctor’s face on it, looking back at you, inquiring how you are feeling?  Would you assume that you’re having a sci-fi dream, or think someone’s pranking you?  Believe it or not, we’re reaching an era where both of those assumptions would be wrong. Your little doctor-machine is in fact the RP-VITA.

The RP-VITA (Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant) is a product borne of the collaboration between InTouch Health and iRobot.  It is a remote-, iPad-operated telepresence robot that is able to self-navigate.

RP-VITA has been certified by the FDA “for telemedicine consults inclusive of active patient monitoring in high-acuity environments where immediate clinical action may be required,” InTouch said in a release. It has been specifically cleared for “active patient monitoring in pre-operative, peri-operative and post-surgical settings, including cardiovascular, neurological, prenatal, psychological, and critical care assessments and examinations.”

Using their iPad, healthcare professionals just plot the destination of the robot and send it on its way.  The robot uses infrared sensors to navigate hospital hallways to avoid bumping into people, and the physician can talk or monitor the patient via the robot.  RP-VITA has been in trial at the Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and will soon be available for lease to other hospitals for $6,000 per month.

The purpose of this medical breakthrough is to bring physicians closer to their patients, even if they are in different locations.  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, people prefer seeing their own doctor, even if it’s on the screen of a robot, than have some other doctor, no matter how good they are, take care of them.

The robot may seem impersonal and cold, but for some, it’s a way to bring familiarity, especially when they get checked-in in an unfamiliar hospital.  It is also a way to bring the best doctor in the world to patients without having to transport the patient or the doctor.