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The virtual doctor is in: Robots in hospitals

April 28, 2011 | William Zimmerman
Robots in Hospitals.jpg

At Ocean Beach Hospital in Ilwaco, Wash., when arriving patients show signs of a stroke, a key member of their medical team is ... a tall flat-panel screen.

Actually, the screen is attached atop a 6-foot device, a robot that functions mostly as a mobile videoconferencing system.

Telemedicine is moving into the telepresence-robot era, with devices that roll on wheels and are controlled remotely, so hospitals can contact stroke, or other, specialists based hundreds or thousands of miles away.

In the case of Ocean Beach Hospital, the system connects its stroke patients to stroke experts located at the Providence Health System in Portland, Ore., 115 miles away.

The doctor in Portland can manipulate the robot and can talk to the team in Washington, speak with and be seen by the patient, and even take some of the patient's vital signs if need be.

The "telepresence robot" is equipped with a digital video camera and microphones that transmit images and sound over wireless network connections.

The robot carries a stethoscope, can display CT scan results and can perform other tasks to help provide the proper diagnosis and treatment.

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