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HL20: Hiep T. Nguyen, MD—The Robotic Surgery Jedi

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, January 14, 2013

By supporting projects from many companies and developers of various sizes, Nguyen hopes to work against challenges in the robotics industry, which he says restricts access and use of this technology due to high costs. As healthcare's cost structure transitions away from fee-for-service, Nguyen says that he sees two fates for robotic technology in healthcare. Because of the current cost, he worries that robotics will not be implemented at the level for the benefits and savings to occur, and payment structure reforms might make this technology too expensive for hospitals, as it is today for many, despite the savings it could generate through improvements in quality and safety. Nguyen hopes the large variety of projects he and his department collaborate on can help to expand the market and increase competition in that industry, so that technology, he says, instead of being an expensive and exclusive method of care, is the solution to healthcare's challenge. 

At Children's, Nguyen led a VGo robotic telepresence project, which allowed the hospital to monitor patients at their homes using robots, reducing repeat hospital visits and saving money.

"What we found happening that was really interesting was patients started to personify the VGo system, and instead of the mechanical mentality, they started to think of the robot as the doctor, and patients started to get more interested in their healthcare," said Nguyen. "They were participating in their health and taking more responsibility by engaging in their condition."

With all his work on futuristic projects at Children's, such as robotic organs and predictive analytics that can assist and alert a physician using EHR, Nguyen's charitable activities bring him back down to earth. Nguyen teaches surgeons in foreign countries pediatric urological reconstruction through IVUMed, where he has served voluntarily as the vice chair for 10 years. His teams often bring their own supplies, and teach at facilities that barely have the basic resources of a modern hospital in the United States. Nguyen has traveled to more than 15 countries through IVUMed. He recently returned from a trip to Rwanda, where he says a generation of medical professionals has been lost because of the genocide that occurred there 18 years ago.

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