The (robot) doctor is in
by Dennis Sharkey
F.W. Huston Medical Center in Winchester has a new doctor but not what patients are typically used to because this doctor is a robot.
The new robot, who doesn’t have a name yet, was provided by Shawnee Mission Medical Center at no cost. Family physician William S. Greiner said it wasn’t a hard decision to say “Yes, we’ll take it.”
“You want to put an expensive piece of technology in our hospital for free?” he said. “Sure!”
The robot doesn’t make actual diagnoses and it won’t talk. But, it allows actual human doctors the benefit of having eyes and ears in an exam room without physically being there. Greiner describes it as an advanced telemedicine device.
The concept is not new and the robots have been used in the city and in western Kansas for practice and teaching situations. Greiner said the technology has evolved and so has the use for the robot.
The main purpose for the robot would be for getting more specialist doctors into the hospital more often. For example the hospital has a cardiologist who visits only once a month. With the robot, a specialist in Kansas City could examine a patient without ever traveling to Jefferson County.
“I think this is just the next logical step,” he said. “They can use their time actually seeing patients instead of commuting to see patients.”
The robot could also serve another valuable purpose. Greiner believes the robot could enhance F.W. Huston’s 24-hour emergency room service. Sometimes doctors are not on hand and a nurse practitioner has to communicate with the doctor via the telephone. Instead of using a phone the doctor could examine the patient through a laptop computer at home.
“I think you’re going to make a more accurate diagnosis,” he said. “You get so much information from what you see and how a patient looks to you.”
He said describing a patient’s condition over the phone can be difficult. Also the diagnosis is more objective because the information is not second hand.
There are no agreements in place with Shawnee Mission at this time but Greiner has given the hospital a list of types of specialists they could seek an agreement with.
The list is based on what the hospital is seeing and what referrals they are making.
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