St Mary's NHS Trust and Imperial College London are piloting a scheme where medical robots will cover ward rounds.
Remote Presence (RP6) Robots allow a medical expert to visually examine and communicate with a patient from anywhere in the world, via the machine, using wireless technology. The robots (nicknamed by staff Sister Mary and Dr Robbie) can also be used for surgical teaching and even videoconferencing.
The robots are controlled with a joystick from a remote site. The doctor 'driving' the robot can view the patient, ask questions and read patient records, view X-rays and test results from the console. The patient sees the doctor's image on the robots 'face'. Although the robot does not physically examine the patient it allows face-to-face contact between the doctor and patient, providing immediate access to specialists.
Parv Sains, project lead, Surgical Specialist Registrar and Research Fellow, said benefits include allowing patients direct access to experts worldwide and to the doctor who performed their surgery, even if they cannot be physically at the patient's bedside.
"If a specialist is at a conference in California but their medical opinion is needed for a St Mary's patient or to deliver a lecture to junior doctors the RP6 robot provides an instant and global link at any time of the day or night.
"Our robots certainly would never replace all doctors on ward rounds, but they are a communication tool which allows a doctor to have direct contact with their patient if they are unable to get to them.
"If we look at a lot of the current strains on the NHS many senior doctors with skills and knowledge are required to be in several places at once. This is a solution in potentially providing their expertise from a remote location and may be a significant step for patient care."
The robots are being trialled in a General Surgery Ward and A&E Department within St Mary's Hospital and for training purposes, at Imperial College's Academic and Clinical Skills Unit. This is the only site in the UK and one of just a handful worldwide, including one in Europe, and three in the USA.
The RP6 robots are the latest strand in the pioneering integration of robots into healthcare by Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Head of Imperial's Division of Surgery, Anaesthetics and Intensive Care and a practising surgeon at St Mary's.
Professor Sir Ara Darzi adds: "This is a revolutionary concept which opens new avenues for telemedicine research and integrates technology with healthcare at a grass roots level, increasing the interface between patients, clinicians and teaching staff."
As part of the pilot, a study is being conducted to evaluate how patients respond to the robots, specific communications skills required for remote presence teleconsultation and potential applications of the technology in clinical healthcare delivery and training.
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