Robots Allow Docs to Examine Patients Who Are Miles Away

Telemedicine lets physicians treat patients despite distance.

ByABC News via logo
August 22, 2009, 10:44 PM

Aug. 23, 2009— -- Welcome to the future, where your doctor could be hundreds of miles away.

Hospitals long have been a place to use new technologies, and the latest is aimed at helping doctors treat patients in rural areas, where hospitals don't have access to specialized doctors.

The practice, known as telemedicine, is on the rise. According to Datamonitor, hospitals reportedly have invested more than $2 billion just this year and that number is expected to triple by 2012.

Baylor Medical Center in Dallas is one of 250 hospitals across the country that use the RP7i, a robot controlled through the Internet, to help patients in rural Waxahachie, Texas.

The RP7i might remind patients of the "Star Wars" character R2D2. They might even think it's awkward at first, but patients warm up quickly to the 5-foot-4, 220-pound robot. InTouch Health, the company manufacturing the robots, rents them for up to $6,000 a month.

Despite the cost, doctors think the investment is worth the price.

"Ultimately, there is a steep initial cost to have this technology here, but over time it's gonna pay for itself," says Dr. Avian Kidd, medical director at Baylor Medical Center in Waxahachie.

The doctor manipulating the robot sits in a special control room with an Internet connection, two monitors, a mouse and a joystick. To drive the robot around, the doctor simply manipulates the joystick to move the robot back, forward and turn it around.

The doctor can check a patient's heartbeat, x-rays and, if they need to take a closer look at the patient, it's as easy as clicking the mouse.