Physician robot to begin making rounds

The robot can be controlled by an iPad and can make hospital rounds while the doctor observes remotely

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The RP-VITA robot doesn't treat patients. It's a vehicle for clinicians and nurses to see and communicate with patients remotely through a camera and HD screen, as well as allowing access to patient clinical data. The robot can be used in conjunction with InTouch Health's cloud service to provide doctors real-time access to electronic medical records.

The robot is also equipped with the ability to connect with diagnostic devices such as otoscopes, for examining the inside of the ears, and ultrasound. For example, the robot comes with a port inside of which is an electronic stethoscope. A nurse can pull out the stethoscope, and a physician can remotely listen to a patients breathing or heartbeat.

The robot's autonomous navigation allows a remote clinician or bedside nurse to send the RP-VITA to a target destination with a single click, enabling the use of clinical applications.

The robot's head, or monitor, also swivels, and will shift its attention to whomever is in the hospital room.

"This enables that same kind of interaction that would take place between a doctor and patients or family members, but through a robotic intermediary," Wang said.

The RP-VITA may be making its debut in hospitals, but iRobot expects it to expand to use in other markets, including homes.

"They lend themselves to a wide variety of applications in home, retail, industrial and other settings," Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, said in a statement.

As part of a vetting by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, RP-VITA robot was evaluated by several hospitals in clinical tests, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Children's Hospital of Orange County, and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, Calif.

"The hospital industry is undergoing significant changes, and as we strive to maintain our culture of ensuring an excellent patient experience, we face significant pressure on reducing operating expenses and managing staffing and resources. New technology such as the RP-VITA that dramatically increases the effectiveness and extends the reach of healthcare professionals is required," Richard Afable, CEO of Hoag Memorial, said in a statement.

Telemedicine is a shift in direction for iRobot. In January, iRobot invested $6 million with InTouch Health as part of a joint development and licensing agreement. Then, in February, iRobot said it would broaden its range of products in response to Pentagon spending cuts over the next 10 years.

The RP-VITA robot will be available near the end of 2012 by InTouch Health. It will be leased at prices ranging from $4,000 to $6,000 per month.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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