The FDA has just approved the use in hospitals of the RP-VITA robot, which is designed to support and improve the overall efficiency of human healthcare providers.
In hospitals and other healthcare centers, one of the key factors in successful patient care, especially during acute episodes, is good coordination between the members of the medical team. One second of inattention, delay or poor communication between the various parties may result in the death or deterioration of the patient. Paul Vespa, Professor and Director of Neurocritical Care at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, underlines: “During a stroke, the loss of a few minutes can mean the difference between preserving and losing brain function.” This is why an increasing number of initiatives are now underway with a view to improving overall care efficiency by incorporating telehealth solutions into hospitals. The very latest in this field is the RP-VITA robot, which has just been authorized for hospital use by the United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The state-of-the-art robot is designed to move around the hospital from patient to patient, coordinating and communicating between the various people involved – patients, physicians and other healthcare personnel.
Robot on call duty
Developed in the United States by InTouch Health (based in Santa Barbara, California) and iRobot (based in Massachusetts) RP-VITA (Remote Presence - Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant), stands 1m 65cms tall and is equipped with an iPad. It has been developed in seven hospitals in the United States, mainly in Los Angeles and Sacramento. A screen is mounted onto the robot column, to which is fixed a wheelbase. The robot assistant positions itself next to the patient, providing a doctor and/or other healthcare personnel who are physically in some other part of the hospital with a remote presence at the scene. The physician’s face appears on the screen and s/he can communicate with colleagues and interact with the patient. RP-VITA combines state-of-the-art telecommunications with autonomous navigation technology. The doctor can remotely order it to go to a specific location and it will navigate its way around the hospital following an integrated plan of the building, steering clear of all obstacles in its path, both people and physical objects.
Enabling dialogue between patient and practitioner
One of the first medical centers to adopt the RP-VITA is the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center. “The robot is the next best thing to having a doctor come and talk to you,” pointed out Kevin Sittner, a former patient of the neuro-Intensive Care Unit, stressing: “It’s an added comfort for me as a patient knowing I can get care whenever I need it.” Once the robot is at the patient’s bedside, the remote presence interface enables the physician to see how the patient is doing, and so decide what immediate steps should be taken, and patient and doctor can talk to each other. There is also an integrated zoom function that enables the doctor to observe the patient closely and attempt a diagnosis, in such cases as the presence of a melanoma, for example. In addition, a range of administrative tasks – such as facilitating the patient’s discharge from the hospital – can also be taken care of, thus potentially saving the human hospital team a great deal of time.