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What Patients Want

 

How to explain it? After years of trying to figure out how to deliver high-touch care in a high-tech world, it turns out that what patients really want is a robot.

Recently, a "telerounding" robot, which allows a doctor in a remote location to check up on patients and consult with staff, visited about 20 post-surgical urology patients, and they gave it rave reviews. "On these visits, we asked patients how they were feeling, inspected their surgical sites, and answered any questions they had," explains Louis Kavoussi, a professor of urology and pioneer in robotic surgery who is leading the project. "The robot was not meant to replace physicians but as a tool to help communicate with patients," he insists. "I was very surprised at how much our patients enjoy remote interaction via the robot."

Why has the robot been such a big hit? Perhaps it is the sheer novelty of the thing. Perhaps, surmises Kavoussi, "patients feel that they are getting more time with doctors who would otherwise be rushing through hospital rounds." Albert Ong, a urology resident who has worked on the project, speculates that since most of the patients have undergone high-tech procedures like robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery, "the robot gives them the feeling that everything they've had at Hopkins is technologically advanced."

Looking rather like a large floor buffer, but topped with an LCD screen, video camera and microphone, the 200-pound, 5-foot-tall contraption emerges from the closet where it lives on Osler 8 and rolls down the hall on a motorized platform. It can make turns and go backwards. Its flat-screen "head" can swivel around in 360-degree turns. It can look up and down. It is operated out of a small office down on Jefferson 1, manipulated with a joystick connected to a desktop computer equipped with specialized software, a video camera and microphone. The whole shebang is connected to the Internet via broadband and a wireless network.

Developed by the California-based InTouch Health Inc.,* the robot was originally designed for nursing homes to aid the doctor who typically must cover several different homes. With the robot, patients can have rapid access to physicians and other experts. This is the first time it has been tested in a hospital. In addition to Kavoussi and Ong, Tom Jarrett, chief of endourology, and urology fellows Lars Ellison and Peter Pinto are participating in the project. Wireless experts John Melville and Patrick Pflaumer configured the robot to run on the hospital's encrypted network.

Potential applications are numerous. The robot could be used on the battlefield or with patients with infectious diseases like SARS. Eventually, the robot may have an arm that can open a door, turn on a light, grab a chart or plug itself in for recharging. It could even take a person's temperature or blood pressure or perform an ultrasound probe. Some of these innovations now are under investigation in Hopkins labs.
Kavoussi, meanwhile, is conducting a more comprehensive study, testing the robot on a group of 50 patients.

-ABS


*Louis Kavoussi is a member of the InTouch Health, Inc. scientific advisory board and owns InTouch Health, Inc. stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under University policy. The terms of this arrangement are being managed by The Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

 

 

 

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