Telemedicine is a concept that has been discussed too many times in the past. The idea is several years old; however it is seeing the light of day only now. The excitement is because of the iRobot Corp’s creation that cleared the toughest obstacle, which is the FDA. The robot christened RP-VITA has the capability to almost do the rounds like any doctor, or at least be on its own while going around the hospital. With a 15-inch display screen that serves as its face, the robot is set to create history in medical annals. However, these artificial doctors (if you could call them that) don’t come cheap and the hospitals could be $4,000 to $6,000 poorer by hiring one of these electronic wonders.
What these robots actually do is certainly not really holding your wrist and feeling the pulse. They are the mediums through which the doctors can “talk” to their patients and even monitor their health from a distant location. However, even this has created immense interest and curiosity in the medical field – with doctors and patients alike. Though they seem to be expensive when one hears the cost, you need to realize that these robots can work nonstop without feeling tired. Nor are they going to ask for extra wages or complain about lack of benefits. Hence, they will ultimately contribute in a big way to bring down the mounting healthcare costs and make them more affordable and reachable to most people. People living in remote areas will stand to benefit the most.
Estimates from the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) forecast that close to 10 million Americans have already benefited from this kind of service, the core areas being services required in emergency rooms, and radiology. With this advancement the growth in the tele-health field is expected to grow rapidly and clock not less than 50% before the end of the year. It is expected to grow in leaps and bounds in the next 5 years. Doctors have already been diagnosing patients through satellite, broadband, mobile devices and the likes for quite some time now. Patients too have become tech savvy and do not hesitate to go online to seek professional consultations. The trend is towards preventive care rather than wait for the disease to attack and seek a cure, which is painful and expensive.
The robots of the future would let the doctor monitor a patient as if he were right beside him, while he is miles away in reality. Using the robot, the doctor would be able to check the patient’s pulse, other vitals, including temperature, oxygen levels in the blood, and even sense a murmur in the heart. The information is transferred to a hand held device (smartphone) and forwarded to the family doctor. Video conferencing which is also part of telemedicine, has already been used successfully, and has been helping patients living in remote areas with no access to professional consultation or treatment. Prescriptions are drawn up remotely and sent to patients who cannot make painful trips to the doctor’s every now and then. On the whole, telemedicine robotics has benefits that far outweigh the cost factor and other employment displacement issues, if any.