The Robot Doctors of the Future Are Coming

Illustration for article titled The Robot Doctors of the Future Are Coming

Remember how in sci-fi tomorrowland we were promised that doctors would be followed around by robots who knew your medical history by rote and could make sure that nothing gets missed? Well, we've woken up in the future because shit just got real.


Meet the RP-VITA, or Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant, a collaboration between iRobot and InTouch Health. iRobot got bored of cleaning your floors and keeping our Navy EOD units safe, so they've decided to focus on making your hospital visit a hopefully less horrible one. The robots will be capable of autonomously navigating the hospital hallways, avoiding obstacles and people (once the FDA approves this functionality). They will be cloud-connected and linked to your full medical record, and they will have ports for directly connecting to medical diagnostic devices. All this and it's controlled by an iPad. The RP-VITA is designed to get the doctor to where he or she is needed and to make sure they know everything they need to know. Plus, look, apparently, it's got some guy's face. He has a goatee. So there's that.

The RP-VITA is platform, and not just in one sense of the word. It is designed to be "the remote presence device component of a total acute care telemedicine solution" which is part of the InTouch Health system and includes an integrated ecosystem of technologies and support infrastructure. It's essentially a more human-sized interface for a larger network, and it's extremely customizable. It's also a platform in the physical sense. Parts may be swapped out depending on the doctor's needs, and iRobot envisions altered versions of these bots being produced for home and retail purposes.

Illustration for article titled The Robot Doctors of the Future Are Coming

There's still a lot we don't know about this new system, for example, how exactly the interface works, and who, exactly is that guy with the face? And why is he robo-talking to that patient while the doctor isn't around? Notice the patient's face? That's the look I'd have, too, if I was left alone in a cold hospital room with a robot instead of a doctor. We do know, though, that it will be added to the list of FDA-cleared Class II devices. That gives it clearance for "active patient monitoring in high acuity environments where immediate clinical action may be required, such as in the ICU and emergency department, facilitating the rapid assessment and treatment of stroke and other time critical conditions." That's a lot of responsibility. Let's just hope none of them go all Johnny Five when someone is counting on them. [iRobot]


I don't think this will take off very quickly. Doctors, Nurses, and any pharmacist or pharmacy student within the last few years are being trained to examine patients, gather vitals, etc. They're trained to start their exam the moment they walk in, before they even touch the patient. There are a multitude of signs you can determine from the moment you see the patient, including respiratory rate/distress, obvious signs of pH changes in your blood, or even obvious signs of Congestive Heart Failure. Robots / Telemedicine devices won't be able to convey that information as effectively, so I feel like a lot of doctors and hospitals won't use them very frequently, or perhaps not as frequently as the manufacturers would desire.