Robots in the North

There is a classic Star Wars scene when C-3PO tells R2-D2 after his long slumber, “Oh, my dear friend. How I’ve missed you”. This is how we feel, when we triage critically ill patients in remote Northern areas that do not have a robot.

Over the past few years, we have placed remote presence robotic technology (RPRT) (A) in remote Northern communities to facilitate direct visualization, examination and diagnosis of the patient, as well as communication with local health care professionals and family members.

The RP-7i remote presence robot (InTouch Health, Inc., Santa Barbara, CA) is controlled by any Wi-Fi connected computer, and emulates the size of an adult. Clinicians can independently undock the robot from its wall charger and drive it to the patient at a gentle 3 km/hr. It’s camera can be zoomed in for clinical assessments (B), or for mentoring necessary procedures (C).

Recently, we reported (Holt et al., Telemed J E Health, 2018) that RPRT reduced the need for transporting acutely ill children from their remote communities, by enhancing triage accuracy and safely facilitating management and timely follow up in their local health center. We concluded by recognizing that this “refined decision-making around disposition and the need for pediatric healthcare away from home cannot be understated”, particularly with First Nations communities where there are historical traumas associated with displacement of indigenous children.

Going forward, it is our goal to optimize technology so that a pediatric intensivist will directly assess all critically ill children presenting to non-tertiary health centers.

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