iRobot and InTouch Health have partnered to create the Remote Presence Virtual+Independent Telemedicine Assistant (RP-VITA) through which a doctor in a remote location can conduct patient care as if he or she is in the room.
"The RP-VITA raises the bar for overseeing patient care remotely and allows me to proactively control a situation as if I were there," said Dr. Jason Knight, director of the Children's Hospital of Orange County California Transport Program and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine, in an interview. Knight has tested the device and led RP-VITA's clinical validation process at CHOC.
The robot -- the most sophisticated of its kind, according to Timothy Wright, InTouch Health's vice president of corporate and market strategy -- was born out of a development collaboration between the two companies in July 2011.
iRobot -- known for its development of consumer robotic devices like a robotic vacuum called the Roomba that cleans the floor on its own -- provided navigation capabilities that allow the robot to move autonomously based on its Ava mobile robotic platform. InTouch Health provided RP-VITA's remote presence technologies and video-based user interface that allows doctors to feel as if they are actually present in the room with patients.
The company, which works on a range of telemedicine solutions, also integrated hospital diagnostic implements such as electronic stethoscopes, otoscopes, and ultrasound equipment into the robot to allow for remote examination.
nurse examines a patient under the watchful eye of a doctor via the
RP-VITA, a robot co-developed by iRobot and InTouch Health that can
autonomously travel around a hospital and allow a physician to
administer care as if he or she is in the room with a patient.
(Source: InTouch Health)
While robots have been used in hospital telemedicine programs before, Wright told us that RP-VITA was designed to take ease of use and sophistication to a new level to help doctors provide better patient care under increased demand for their time and attention. “There are no other robots like this on the market,” he said. "It supports is a growing trend in telemedicine to help extend a physician's reach."
To date, devices that allow doctors to remotely interact with patients have been operated by a joystick, Wright said. However, "we believe that in order to expand physician adoption, we need to make our robots easy for them to use," he said.
To facilitate this, InTouch promoted the use of an iPad to navigate RP-VITA, which makes it relatively simple for someone even without technical skills or manual dexterity to use, Wright said. Via this navigation, RP-VITA can travel on wheels around a hospital at a maximum forward speed of 3.36 mph, rolling through corridors and into patient rooms.
One of its key features -- advanced obstacle detection avoidance sensors that include laser range finders -- allow the robot to keep out of the way of obstacles in its path and maneuver around them, allowing for a safe journey through busy hospital hallways. The robot also creates a digital map of an environment that it can access for future use, labeling rooms, controlling navigation speeds for certain areas, and marking zones where the robot should not travel, Wright said.
The robot stands five feet four inches in height, has a battery life of about four to five hours, and allows a doctor to communicate with patients through a video screen at the top of the robot. A smaller screen below the live-interaction interface provides information to the patient about the doctor administering care.
Integration of InTouch Health's SureConnect platform, a cloud-based network infrastructure with advanced data encryption, allows for Internet-based audio and video connectivity from virtually anywhere to RP-VITA, Wright said.
Through its WiFi support, the robot also can access live patient data from electronic medical records to provide physicians with up-to-date information about a patient's vital signs, lab results, and imaging date. Futhermore, it hooks up to diagnostic devices to allow a doctor, through the help of a nurse present in the room, remotely examine a patient, he added.
All of these provide a realistic patient-care experience that in some cases can even be enhanced by the robot's advanced connectivity, said Knight. "I can get data I never had over the phone," he said. "There's never been one time I've used it and said, 'That was a waste of time.' I always see something I wouldn't have otherwise."
Knight said RP-VITA's ease of use also breaks down the technological wall that can be an obstacle with telepresence solutions and allows him to "forget about the technology and just focus on the clinical needs at hand."
InTouch is currently marketing and selling the robot, which should start appearing in hospitals by the end of the year at a cost of about $6,000 a month. The company and iRobot also plan to make design improvements to future versions of RP-VITA, including a feature that will be added by the end of the year to allow a remote physician or bedside nurse to send the robot to a target destination with a single click, Wright said.
Advanced communication capabilities to provide coordination among a team of physicians using RP-VITA also will be added down the line.
– This article was written by Elizabeth Montalbano, contributing writer to DesignNews where it first appeared.