News Release 

The future of contactless care: robotic systems gain patient approval

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Research News

WHO: Giovanni Traverso, MB, BChir, PhD, Associate Physician, Division of Gastroenterology, Brigham and Women's Hospital; corresponding author of a new article published in JAMA Network Open.

Peter Chai, MD, MMS, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital; first author.

WHAT: In the age of COVID-19, mobile robotic telehealth systems could help clinicians and patients interact without contact. Last spring, some health care systems deployed robotic systems within a hospital to evaluate and interact with patients. In a JAMA Network Open article, Traverso and colleagues report the results of a national survey and a cohort study in an emergency department (ED), which analyzed patients' satisfaction with an initial evaluation conducted by a robotic system. Overall, 92.5 percent of patients were accepting of and satisfied with their experience.

"Taken together, this investigation suggests that a robotic system to facilitate contactless tele-triage in the ED is feasible, acceptable, and could have a large public health impact during the COVID-19 pandemic," the authors write.

In the cohort study, 40 stable patients in the Brigham's ED agreed to have their medical histories recorded by a four-legged, dog-like robotic system called Dr. Spot. The system, which includes four cameras and a mounted tablet, is operated remotely by a single emergency medicine provider. Of the participants, 92.5 percent reported satisfaction with Dr. Spot, and 82 percent stated that their experience was as good as an in-person encounter.

Results of the national survey, which was completed by 1,000 participants, indicated that individuals believe robotic systems are most useful for facilitating patient-physician interactions, acquiring contactless vital signs, and conducting basic SARS-CoV-2 testing by obtaining nasal and oral swabs. Participants also demonstrated approval of robotic systems that could support placement of intravenous catheters, and, for those who are critically ill, provide potential assistance with tasks like turning patients (proning).

"We anticipate robotic systems can be developed to assist with these tasks, especially during surges of patients with potential COVID-19 infection," the authors write. "Minimizing human contact with individuals who may have COVID-19 disease, but are otherwise well, may reduce the risk of in-hospital disease transmission and enable high-risk health care workers to safely interact with patients through tele-triage."

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