RP-VITA robot promises to reboot healthcare

September 15, 2012 in Medical Technology


Advanced information technology has catapulted healthcare from that of ominous to that of autonomous, with a burgeoning number of robots programming their way into the industry.

This July, officials announced the unveiling of a new telemedicine droid  -  one that even has Luke Skywalker contemplating a trade-in. 

The Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant (RP-VITA) robot  -  a collaborative effort of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based telemedicine company, InTouch Health, and Bedford, Mass.-based iRobot  -  will enable physicians to see patients from virtually any location  -  a feature steadily gaining traction in healthcare. 

This telepresence technology allows a physician to remotely monitor and treat patients, a capability increasingly beneficial for patients living in rural or underserved areas who may not have easy access to care. 

“We think we’ll be able to bring telemedicine and remote presence to a much higher adoption level,” said Timothy Wright, vice president of corporate and market strategy at InTouch Health. “We think the opportunity is there to take things to an entirely new level to how technology can impact healthcare.” 

Besides allowing the physician to capture and receive real-time clinical data, the first and most significant technology of the RP-VITA is what Wright calls “autodrive.” 

“In a more technical sense, what it is, is obstacle detection, obstacle avoidance and path planning capability.” Wright said.

Essentially it is capable of building a map of the hospital, which Wright said, is unlike any other robot technology currently available for healthcare. The benefit here, he said, comes down to the physician now being able to focus on the patient and not the technology. 

Physicians involved in the clinical validations are also lauding the new technology. 

“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 Jason Knight, MD, director of the CHOC Transport Program and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine. “The robot is so easy to use that I can forget about the technology and just focus on the clinical needs at hand.” Knight led the clinical validation process at CHOC.

Another beneficial component of the robot centers on its ability to integrate with bedside monitors. 

“We have the ability to grab that data and pull it in live into our system and then to take action based on that data.” Wright said. “Part of our vision here is to present the remote physicians with the data they need to make decisions and as a friendly dashboard platform.”

In addition to bedside monitor integration, developers created the RP-VITA to improve clinical communication within the hospital that is often fragmented between day and night shifts. 

“One of the things we’ve uncovered from that is how frequently the night shift is not connected to what happened in the day shift and how frequently there are breakdowns in care delivery because of poor hand-offs between the shift,” Wright said. 

This technology would allow the intensivist or attending physician to circle back and see their patients again in the evening.

Moreover, if there are issues occurring with a patient during rounds, for instance, and the question arises whether the patient needs to go to surgery, “the intention is to make it so simple and straightforward that the nurse can just pick that doctor’s name from a list on the chest screen of the robot and call that doctor,” Wright said. “If the doctor has a smartphone or an iPad, all they have to do is confirm, and they can be brought into the workflow.”

“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,” said Richard Afable, MD, president and CEO of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, one of the hospitals participating in clinical validations. “New technology such as the RP-VITA that dramatically increases the effectiveness and extends the reach of healthcare professionals is required,” he continued. 

Hoag, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) participated in clinical validations as part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review process for the RP-VITA.

Wright explained that they are currently developing software to enhance the capabilities of RP-VITA further. Incorporated in the robot but not yet software enabled is the ability to do things like facial recognition and scene recognition. 

This could prove beneficial in several realms, Wright pointed out. For example, if certain patients required an elevated bed, “The robot could be sent on routine rounds to the patient rooms, go in and actually look at the bed, recognize it as a bed and identity if the head of the bed is elevated or not. And if it’s not, it can be instructed to go back to the nurses’ station.”

The first RP-VITA units are slated to be released in November, priced at $4,000 to $6,000 per month, with the cost decreasing as the order volume increases. This number includes all software needed. 

Officials say telemedicine robots like the RP-VITA offer physicians the ability to communicate with the patient or care team management process remotely. The new level of mobility, utility and ease of use the robots provide for healthcare professionals in the acute care market has precipitated an upward trend in sales. 

These current trends in telemedicine suggest the market is ripe for this robot revolution. Currently valued at $11.6 billion, the telemedicine market is projected to jump to $27.3 billion by 2016, according to a March BCC Research report. 

Telemedicine, however, is far from the only market within the healthcare field rebooting technology. A patient with prostate cancer slated to undergo surgery, for example, may also encounter a doc donning droid-like apparel rather than the archetypical green scrubs. 

According to a BCC Research report last year, the global medical robotics and computer-assisted surgical equipment market is valued at an estimated $2.2 billion, slated to reach $3.6 billion by 2016, with the U.S. accounting for two-thirds of the market. 

Amidst this seemingly hospitable climate for artificial intelligence, officials hail the development of the RP-VITA technology as a genuinely intelligent move.  

“The RP-VITA is a game changer for acute care telemedicine, and it will become the cornerstone for many new clinical applications and uses,” said InTouch Health CEO Yulun Wang. “The RP-VITA is a platform that will immediately improve existing healthcare delivery models, and through additional collaboration and development will create new clinical innovations that we can only imagine.”

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Article source: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/rp-vita-robot-promises-reboot-healthcare

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