Making the Rounds With Robo Doc

(By Chris Ochsner -- Kansas City Star Via Associated Press)
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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A white-coated mobile robot may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, but one of these gizmos may one day ask how you're feeling and listen to your reply. Some physicians -- like Joseph Patelin, of Shawnee Mission, Kan., whose face is shown above -- are using monitor-mounted robots to check on patients.

A study in last month's Archives of Surgery found that robo docs "matched the performance" of the flesh-and-blood variety with 270 urology patients. Compared to traditional bedside checkups, robot rounds didn't increase complications after surgery, lengthen hospital stays or prompt more patient complaints.

"If you get called in the middle of the night, by the time you get dressed, drive to the hospital . . . it's 30 to 35 minutes later," says New York urologist Louis Kavoussi, one author of the study. But using the robot, he says, "in a minute, I can be in the room." (A joystick allows him to maneuver the robot, and a camera on the mechanical MD lets him see where it's going and to whom it's speaking.) Kavoussi, who used robots regularly at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, says he often spends a bit more time with patients (albeit remotely) because he doesn't feel as rushed.

Kavoussi is an adviser to InTouch Health, which makes some of the robots.

-- Kathleen Hom

© 2008 The Washington Post Company