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The prompted the second study, which focused on diagnostic safety. Based on preliminary results, Dr. Louis Kavoussi, professor of urology for Johns Hopkins Medical Center and another architect of the study, says telerounding is “about equivalent” with in-person visits in determining a patient’s progress.

Most of the patients in both studies on telerounding have undergone laproscopic surgery for urologic issues and tend to experience relatively quick recovery.

In general, Ellison notes, it is in treating the patients “who are the least sick and the ones who are the most sick” where telerounding will be most useful.  For robo-docs, that means their immediate future is likely confined to seeing patients who might not experience much condition change – such as those in intensive care units – as well as patients who are recovering from routine procedures that may only need to be questioned to make sure they are recovering as expected.

Renata Bushko, director of the Future of Health Technology Institute in Hopkinton, Mass., is not surprised that people have reacted so positively to the robots because the technology is not only offsetting the increasingly critical shortage of health care professionals, but also gives patients more options.

Although Ellison says he “initially saw this as a way for physicians and patients to communicate more freely outside of traditional rounds,” he now sees the robots as a boon to hospitals in remote or rural settings, where doctors may have wider coverage areas.  The robots also could be sent into situations where a contagious disease or a biohazard is present, to treat people without exposing medical professionals directly.

Dr. Yulun Wang, chairman and CEO of InTouch Health Inc., which makes the robots, says that his company is in discussions with Johns Hopkins about a larger deployment.

But not everyone is applauding the rise of the machines.  Ellison said that some doctors are afraid that the robo-docs could open them up to litigation, particularly if there is a misdiagnosis that happened while they were on tele-rounds.

Ellison has met the criticism, though, with the argument the use of the robot provides greater protection since the remote visit could be recorded as part of the electronic medical record and it increases the number of times a patient might see a doctor.

The irony, though, is that it’s not the new technologies that are proving the big impediments to telerounding. The robots also still face some issues in terms of maneuvering capability.

“The robots sometimes need human assistance to open a door,” says Kavoussi, unswayed by the problem, “but none of these are insurmountable issues.”

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Tagged: Computing, Biomedicine

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