Telepresence robots let doctors go home with patients in the U.S.

If you've ever been hospitalized and sent home to recover, you know it can be overwhelming. Now imagine it from a child's point of view. Children's Hospital Boston is now piloting a program to send telepresence robots home with post-op patients. The robots will allow for ongoing communication, observation and care to ease recovery from the familiar comfort of home.

The 5'4" robots created by Vgo Communications Inc., aren't new. They've allowed for kids to remotely attend school and assist teleworkers. They feature audio sensors, articulating cameras, speakers and a video screen for a face to maximize the feeling of personal connection.

Now, pressed into service as a medical application, they are controlled by staff back at the hospital allowing for doctors and nurses to consult with patients and their parents, and to collect up-close visual data providing clues to their patient's progress.

The implications for a successful trial of these robots are huge. For hospitals it could mean sending patients home earlier with confidence their care will be followed up. The ongoing staff/patient interaction means medical teams could detect complications and ensure earlier intervention and adjustments to care if needed.

For the parents, it is a helpful and reassuring tool that could also minimalize post-op trips. For the kids, it's probably just wicked cool and distracting to have a rolling robot companion to talk to. Either way, it provides for some innovative bedside manner.

The robots are connected to the hospital via Verizon's 4G LTE network so no wireless Internet is required. This means the bots can handle a lot of data. It is hoped in addition to visual and voice connections, one day these virtual caregivers could be outfitted to perform more complicated tasks such as take blood or urine samples for analysis.

Children's Hospital Boston has currently deployed five of the $6,000 robots and is working to complete a 40 patient in-home trial to determine the efficacy of the Vgo as a medical companion.

Boston.com, via Popsci.com.au

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