St Mary’s NHS Trust, Paddington, is trialling the use of robot medics that will not only allow doctors to go on their rounds without leaving their chair but also may eventually connect to the National Programme for IT.

Sister MaryThe RP6 (Remote Presence) robots (right), dubbed ‘Sister Mary’ and ‘Dr Robbie’, are similar in design to those piloted last year in Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. The robots, a UK first, are controlled by joystick by a doctor at a remote terminal.

Images and speech are transferred between the robot and the terminal over a secure Wireless Access Point connect. The doctor’s image appears on the robot’s ‘face’, and the patient is captured on camera and transmitted back to the terminal.

According to St Mary’s NHS Trust, negotiations are underway with the London LSP for an early implementation of CRS and PACS that will allow the healthcare professionals controlling the robots to view x-rays and patient records on their terminals.

Project lead at the NHS Trust, Parv Sains, said there were many benefits to using the robots: "If we look at a lot of the current strains on the NHS many senior doctors with skills and knowledge are required to be in several places at once. This is a solution in potentially providing their expertise from a remote location and may be a significant step for patient care."

The robots, manufactured by InTouch Health, are currently deployed in the general surgery ward and the A&E department. Surveys are underway among patients to gauge their reaction to the robots. The RP6 models are also being used for training.

Professor Sir Ara Darzi of Imperial College London, who spearheaded the project and also led research into ‘virtual chaperones’ to monitor doctors and patients, said: "This is a revolutionary concept which opens new avenues for telemedicine research, and integrates technology with healthcare at a grass roots level."

Sains said: "Our robots certainly would never replace all doctors on ward rounds, but they are a communication tool which allows doctors to have direct contact with their patient if they are unable to get to them."

If the robots are still in operation when St Mary’s NHS Trust is connected to the data spine, the system will be able to display records and test results both to the patient, on the robot’s ‘face’, and to the doctor at the remote terminal. St Mary’s is working with Philips to implement a PACS solution, and there is scope within the project to transfer x-ray images to the robot once work is completed.

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