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Clinical robots trialled on Waikato wards

Friday, 6 April 2018  
Posted by: Kim Mundell
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eHealthNews editor Rebecca McBeth


PICTURE: Daphne the robot with trial participants (from left) Driden Kunaka, Jeweleigh Bates and Paul Huggan


Telepresence robot technology means doctors can virtually meet with patients in other locations for face-to-face consultations, improving the care experience for the consumer.


Waikato District Health Board is trialling the use of clinical robots within its hospitals.


Robots Dougie and Daphne allow Waikato DHB specialists to roam the wards of Waikato and Thames Hospitals from wherever they are based, giving them virtual access to patients elsewhere.


The DHB is trialling the clinical robots for six months and hopes they can help specialists to intervene earlier to improve patient care in rural areas.  They are the first of their kind in New Zealand.


The trial is sponsored by the Waikato DHB virtual care programme and uses iPad-based telepresence robots from Double Robotics that can navigate around clinical areas.


Specialists like Paul Huggan, a consultant in general medicine and infectious diseases, can log in to a hospital computer or a mobile app and have his face instantly visible on the robot screen and then use his fingertips to navigate to where he is needed.


“These robots can help us bring care closer to patients wherever they present, especially those in rapid health decline,” says Huggan.


“There are a number of ways that this telepresence technology could help us make better decisions. I work with infectious diseases and sometimes you just have to be with a person face to face to get a proper feel for their situation,” says Huggan. 


“It’s as close to the human touch as I can get.”


Huggan tells eHealthNews that he works with the robot on one screen and his clinical workstation on the other, where he can review a patient’s laboratory and radiology results as well as any outpatient records.


A health professional present with the patient can read out or show him any inpatient notes or patient observations that he cannot view electronically.


Huggan says the robots are being used for both planned and unplanned patient assessments where specialist advice is needed. Previously, these situations would rely on telephone calls, but Huggan says the use of telepresence is a “completely different experience”.


“It seems to have really made a big impact for the small number of patients that have used it to see that we have made the effort to come and see them and discuss in real time what their concerns are,” he says.


He has used the technology four times over the past week, spending around 1.5 hours virtually visiting patients in Thames while working in Waikato.


“It’s a hard thing to improve services in a region like this where many people have complex needs and live a long way from where many specialist services are based. The robot puts us right there with the people we’re trying to help,” he says.

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