Published in the April 2009 issue of Today’s Hospitalist
MEET THE INTOUCH RP-7, a robot that allows remote physicians to serve as a nocturnist stand-in.
The system, which is being used for the first time in hospital medicine, is now in place for a study on remote hospitalists collaborating with nurse practitioners or physician assistants at the 55-bed Taylor Regional Hospital in Hawkinsville, Ga. That’s thanks to the Atlanta-based Eagle Hospital Physicians, which has been testing the remote presence technology. Eagle is a hospitalist management group with hospitalist programs in close to 30 hospitals across 10 states.
“We’re focusing on the needs of some of our more rural clients,” says Betty Abbott, MSPH, MBA, Eagle’s chief operating officer. “A remote hospitalist working with midlevels can help with the physician shortage and with the lifestyle of hospitalists working in that facility.”
The offsite physician appears on the RP-7’s flat screen monitor, interacting with patients and extenders via audio and video. The robot comes equipped with an electronic stethoscope that the remote physician can use, with the extender’s help, to listen in on heart and lung sounds and do a history and physical and exam.
The system was first tested last year in Atlanta, where Eagle has another hospitalist program and the remote hospitalist did admissions directly. The company found that staff and patient satisfaction with the remote presence was basically the same as with direct physician care “and that it took only a minute longer to complete an admission.
Hospitals, of course, need to have a plan B in place “in the form of the ED physician or a hospitalist on back-up call “for critically ill patients. And even physicians who have only a remote presence need to be licensed in that state and have admitting privileges in that hospital.
Eagle may eventually pool coverage for several of its hospital clients at one time, allowing one remote hospitalist to work via an RP-7 and collaborating with ED staff or extenders in several facilities. In addition, Eagle is already using the same technology to provide e-neurology consult services at one hospital in Lexington, Ky., and is moving to provide similar specialty support in critical care and cardiology.
The offsite hospitalist can steer the RP-7 around the patient’s bedside. “If the physician has good driving and communication skills,” says Ms. Abbott, “the patient loses track of the fact that the doctor is not physically present.”