We may have gotten a glimpse of the future last night at our monthly medical staff meeting at MCDH. Dr. Jim Gude informed our medical staff that he now has “robots” at 4 other hospitals in our area, and he is looking to add more hospitals in the future.
The new robots appear to be a boon to people and providers living in small, remote areas such as the Mendocino coast. With the availability of this technology, Dr. Gude or one of his associates can visit patients in hospital beds hundreds of miles (even thousands of miles) away from his location. He can converse with the patient and the doctors and nurses at the bedside. And he can evaluate medical data such as x-rays and bedside monitors. The robot even has a stethoscope attachment so that Dr. Gude can listen to the patient’s heart (even though he is miles and miles away).
The benefit to the patient and to the local providers is that Dr. Gude is a specialist in Intensive Care Medicine. Most small hospitals, such as ours, do not have access to an “Intensivist” locally. But, by having access to such a specialist (and other specialists as well) locally via the robot, I believe that lives can be saved and that dollars can be saved as well. The dollars are saved, as patients can receive care in their own home community and not need to be transported using expensive ambulance trips or even more expensive helicopter trips to the closest hospital with such a specialist. I think that we saw a glimpse of the future last night. I believe that if we are ever going to get control of medical costs in this country, telemedicine “robots” are very likely to be part of the solution.