to receive RP-7 robots
In early February, St. Mary’s Hospital, Cottonwood, and Clearwater Valley Hospital, Orofino, will each receive a wireless, mobile Remote Presence or RP-7 robot from St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. The five foot robots are equipped with a special video camera and an LCD screen, much like a laptop computer screen, fixed to a motorized body. The physician or specialist at the home site can have a two way communication with the patient, family or health provider at the remote site. The mobile unit is controlled through a workstation equipped with a video camera, microphone, joystick and specialized software. The consultant can remotely ‘drive’ the robot to the patient’s room.
The RP-7 technology allows a specialist from an urban medical facility to interact with the rural patient and physician to help assess, diagnose and devise a treatment plan. The specialist can view the patient’s bedside monitor for vital readings. They can see and hear each other using the two way camera and audio equipment mounted on the RP-7 robot.
According to Bryan Skinner, SMHC/CVHC Information Technology manager, the use of the robots are subject to resolving a variety of connectivity issues. ““We’ve come such a long way in our IT services over the past few years that we may be nearing the capacity of our region’s connectivity,” said Skinner. “We’re working closely with the SARMC IT team and other experts to resolve those issues. We already have orders in to Verizon and Qwest for additional bandwidth at each of our facilities for future growth. We’re hopeful that we can all work together to get these new services to our patients.”
The SARMC Telepsychiatry Practice Manager, the project IT team and nursing representatives from St. Alphonsus will deliver the robots and begin training the nursing staff and physicians.
“While our family physicians provide excellent care, sometimes they need to communicate with specialists. This usually involves either a phone conversation or sending the patient to meet in person with the specialist. Traveling to a distant location for a consultation can be expensive and time consuming,” said Casey Meza, CEO. “Having this system on site for our doctors and patients means they can have instant communication in real time. The consulting physician can actually help assess the patient while viewing them over their computer screen.”
The robots will also be used for staff training. Specialized nurses from St. Alphonsus will be training local OR staff in the best practices of surgical techniques. After online education, the nurses will ‘meet’ via the robots to discuss different approaches to patient care. The nurse trainer from St. Al’s will later view the techniques of local operating room personnel during procedures. Local OR staff can also view a surgical procedure at the remote site and dialogue with the surgical team.
“In addition to staff training, our initial focus is to use the robots for telepsychiatry. This area has a shortage of psychiatric services and, through St. Als, we’ll have access to four psychiatrists, including one child psychiatrist,” said Meza.
St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center received a multi year grant to pilot the robotics program pairing Boise area specialists with rural facilities in Idaho and Oregon. The project will continue for another 18 months. Robots are placed in other locations including the Walter Knox Hospital in Emmett; West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell; Holy Rosary Hospital in Ontario, Oregon and St. Elizabeth Health Services in Baker City, Oregon.
Meza and representatives from the CVHC and SMHC nursing and medical staff visited one of the satellite sites in La Grande, Oregon. “It seems like a very futuristic solution to a present day challenge,” said Meza “But, although it may not be the same as sitting down in person with a consultant, after seeing the technology in operation we believe it’s an important close second.”
The RP-7 devices and workstations are manufactured by InTouch Health based in Santa Barbara, California. They claim the robot allows specialists to “be in two places at once.” Initially, the robots were used primarily in larger hospitals for doctors who wanted to do supplemental ‘rounding’ on their hospital patients, but still needed to spend additional time in the surgery suite or in the clinic. Those doctors can round remotely using joystick navigation and over 30 infrared sensors to direct the robot from room to room.
Increasingly, the technology is being used in states with large rural populations for training purposes and to electronically bring specialists to the remote bedsides of patients in the hospital, clinic exam room or in the Emergency Room.
“St. Al’s inquired about partnering with us because they know our board, medical, nursing and administrative staff are very innovative and want to provide the best in quality patient care,” said Meza. “We were very well positioned to accept their offer because we have an extremely proactive IT staff who work tirelessly to bring us the latest in technology for better patient care. We will always provide that close, personal touch, but we also need technology to ensure the best possible care.”