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Robot Roundup

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, June 28, 2011

When I heard that President Obama would be speaking about one of my favorite subjects—robots—I knew that's what I'd write about in this week's column. Obama, speaking at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was announcing the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, which brings together major U.S. manufacturers and universities—and a more than $500 million investment in "advanced manufacturing." In case you were wondering—that's a fancy way of saying robots.

It's clear that robots have been and will continue to be a boon to the healthcare industry—from robot-assisted surgery to remote healthcare. Obama didn't touch on healthcare much but it occurred to me that I'd already done a lot of reporting on robots. In fact, I've written more about robots than I should probably admit.

Enough, in fact, to round them up and share my favorites here:

Domo Arigato, Doctor Roboto: Topped by an extraordinarily goofy headline, this column from May 2010 talks about five-foot tall robots roaming the halls of California's UCLA Medical Center, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, MI, and the North Shore LIJ Health System in New York, among other early telehealth adopters.

Docs use joysticks, live video feed, speakers, and microphones to visit and communicate with patients (and, presumably, to ensure the remote bots don't mow down unsuspecting patients walking unawares).  Critics dismiss them as expensive gimmicks that limit human contact.

But patients like them. In fact, they like them a little more than they like doctors.
In a study led by Louis Kavoussi, MD, chairman of urology at North Shore-LIJ, and the nation's first user of the remote rounding robot, half the patients preferred a "tele-rounding" visit by their own doctor to a "real" visit by another physician. More than 80% of the patients felt that the robot increased physician accessibility.

 Does E-Health Stand a Remote Chance? This story, published earlier this year, also raises the argument that remote high-tech treatment might be an improvement on the current "human-to-human" model. And this time it's not just the patients who are saying so.

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