Robots may one day rise up to destroy us, but these days they’re proving quite helpful, especially in medicine. Robotic surgery has developed rapidly over the past decade, and now, robots are helping patients recover too.
For the last four months, Boston Children’s Hospital has been sending some of its young patients home with a sleek, two-wheeled robot called VGo (VEE-go). With a camera, audio equipment, and an LCD screen, VGo is essentially a teleconferencing system on wheels, and doctors at Boston Children’s are using it to check in on their young patients from afar.
"We realized that one of the most expensive parts of surgical care is the hospitalization," says Dr. Hiep Nguyen, director of Robotic Surgery Research and Training at the hospital. "For most patients, they do not need such a high acuity of care but they simply could not go home without risking potential complications. We felt that there must be a way of providing transitional care."
With a VGo, Nguyen can send patients home earlier and provide that care remotely. He doesn’t have to call a patient back into the hospital to check on surgical scars—he can get high-resolution images from the robot. He can also use it to talk a parent through a simple procedure (removing a temporary stent, for example).
Boston Children’s has been using five of these $6,000 robots in its initial pilot program and so far the results are promising. Nguyen says he was surprised by how accepting families were of the technology. Erin Tally, the mother of a young urinary surgery patient who was sent home with a VGo, told the Boston Globe, "It was kind of comforting to know it was there."
For Nguyen, VGo not only obviates the need for expensive hospital stays, it fosters parental involvement. "The most important thing," he says, "is that the robot engages the whole family in the participation of the care of the child."
Nguyen is now working with VGo’s manufacturers to develop new versions of the robot that could measure blood pressure or perform urinalysis. The biggest problem so far is just spotty wireless coverage. "One of the most frustrating limitations is not having reliable 4G," says Nguyen. Can you heal me now?