Published in the September 2010 issue of Today’s Hospitalist.
WITH A TAP OF THE JOYSTICK on her laptop, hospitalist Jayne Lee, MD, steers a telemedicine robot into a hospital room and introduces herself. It’s at that point that many patients, who can see Dr. Lee’s face on the robot’s monitor, ask where exactly she is.
When Dr. Lee replies, “Paris,” they often assume she means the nearby town of Paris, Ky. But she’s actually beaming in from an office in her apartment on the Right Bank.
Dr. Lee is a member of Eagle Hospital Physicians, an Atlanta-based hospitalist management company that is spearheading the use of robotic telemedicine. While she flies to the U.S. once a month to work 10 straight shifts at a hospital in Kentucky or North Carolina, she spends an additional week manning the robot “an INTOUCH Health RP-7 “from France.
In Paris, Dr. Lee receives a page when she’s needed for rounds at one of the Eagle hospitals where she’s licensed and credentialed. After speaking with the onsite team, she swings into action, albeit from halfway around the world, interacting with nurses and patients through a camera and microphone built into the robot.
“I prioritize who I need to see and then unplug the robot from where I’m parked in a hall,” she says. Because she rounds with each patient’s nurse “it’s the nurse, for instance, who places the robot’s stethoscope on the patient so Dr. Lee can listen “she spends more time during her remote practice interacting with nurses than when she’s practicing onsite.
As she steers to patients’ bedsides, Dr. Lee gets “plenty of looks, particularly from older patients.” But she’s never had a patient refuse her robotic care.
Born and raised in Flint, Mich., Dr. Lee first visited Paris as a fourth-year medical student. Her decision to move there “she was already working for Eagle “coincided with Eagle’s move into telemedicine. While she’s fluent in conversational French, she doesn’t have the proficiency or the European Union training she’d need to practice medicine in France.
But Dr. Lee believes she’s in on the ground floor of an innovation that will only see greater demand in the U.S., due to the shortage of hospitalists in rural facilities. As Eagle expands its telemedicine presence, she hopes to practice remotely full-time.
“Telemedicine is a new concept, like hospital medicine was 10 or 15 years ago, but it’s evolving,” Dr. Lee says. “I feel that I’m a part of the future of medicine.”