Robot Tele-rounding in the NICU


It looks a bit like a scene out of “The Jetsons.”  While robots have been used for doctors to “round” or check up on adults recovering in hospital rooms, researchers at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles wanted to see if the care from a doctor-run robot was any different for its tiniest patients.

Three-year-old twins Kristina and Adrian Rubel are full of energy now, but they started life in neonatal intensive care at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. Their doctor was unconventional.

Alex Rubel, the twins’ dad, told Ivanhoe, “You see it doing rounds by itself. It looks weird, but it’s a doctor.”

Neonatologist, Paige Jackson, MD, controls the robot from Children’s Hospital LA, across the street. She was part of the robot tele-rounding study.

Dr. Jackson told Ivanhoe, “The goal of it really was to see if we could provide some of the specialty services that we have here in places that are not here.”

The study found babies did equally well, whether the doctor was working through the robot or in the unit.

Parents, like Tika Wilson, whose twin girls are here, liked it.

“It’s the doctor, so it’s still a person. That’s the thing that I like. If it were just a robot and you couldn’t see the face and that wasn’t an actual person behind it, then I think I’d be like- that’s kind of crazy.”

In the next study, the robot will allow moms to see their newborns, if they can’t physically be there.
Children’s Hospital researchers see great potential in the robot technology. It could bring specialists like Dr. Jackson into hospitals that don’t have the finances, space or consistent demand for services.


REPORT: MB #4045

BACKGROUND: A team of neonatologists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles investigated the use of robot-assisted telemedicine in performing bedside rounds and directing daily care for infants with mild-to-moderate disease. They found no significant differences in patient outcomes when telemedicine was used and noted a high level of parent satisfaction.

TREATMENT: Researchers wanted to determine if robot-assisted telemedicine could be part of daily clinical practice in order to provide care by a neonatologist where one might otherwise not be present—in remote locations, underserved communities and at times of limited staffing. In an earlier study, the team at CHLA demonstrated the feasibility, safety and accuracy of robot-assisted telemedicine in the NICU. 

NEW TECHNOLOGY: In this randomized study, infants were treated by either an onsite neonatologist who visited the baby at the bedside during patient rounds, or by an offsite neonatologist who performed daily evaluations of the patient using robot-assisted telemedicine. Twenty pairs of patients were matched by age, weight, diagnosis and disease severity, with one infant from the pair assigned to each treatment group. 
There were no differences in average length of stay, age at discharge or hospital charges between the two treatment groups. Nutritional needs, respiratory support, days on antibiotics, phototherapy and number of radiological studies were also the same between the two groups. 


Ellin Kavanagh

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