Nurse Ratchet Makes House Calls

The future of healthcare is not Obamacare, but RobotCare.  More and more the economics of robotics are replacing the layers of people needed to attend to a patient’s needs.  This may sound like a cold therapy, but the reality of accessing better more efficient care outweighs the interpersonal relationship of doctors/nurses and patients.

Last month, two year Aidan Tally’s post-op was monitored by a 4’6″ robot from the comfort of his own room vs. a hospital bed.  This new breed of “robotic-aids” is part of a program being implemented by the Children’s Hospital of Boston with built by Vgo Communications Inc. Vgo’s mechanical nurses provide doctors with real-time monitoring of post-surgical recovery via live video/audio feeds and close-ups of the surgical scars that can be reviewed miles away.  The robot’s face is really an uplink to the patients’ medical team that are able to determine and communicate the care remotely.

The cost of the Vgo is about $6,000 or 5 times less than a nurse’s starting salary (without benefits).  While other teleconference units are being implemented in the workplace (see previous posts), this program is considered the first in the health care industry. According to Dr. Hiep T. Nguyen, director of Children’s Hospital’s Robotic Surgery Research and Training Center, “Eventually, I see a whole fleet of these robots being sent home with patients…with this technology, we’re going to be able to replace hospital monitoring with home-based monitoring.’’  Aidan is one of eight patients being accompanied home by a robot, this will be expand to “40 at-home patients before taking the pilot program to the next level: sending patients home early, along with a robotic companion.”  These future robotic companions will include attachments to measure blood pressure, take a pulse, and conduct blood and urine tests, sending the information to hospital personnel for review. Robots could also be used to monitor home-bound elderly and terminally ill patients, who can’t make it to hospitals for checkups.

As more and more hospitals are under pressure to cut costs and manage a doctor’s time more efficiently, Jorge Sanchez de Lozada of  Massachusetts General Hospital says “we’re at a kind of tipping point in health care…This technology is definitely where health care is going.’’  Mr. De Lozada is right, however I still miss Dr. Baker’s black bag and comforting simile.

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