The study design excluded patients who suffered post-operative complications, as robotic visits wouldn't help in these cases, he says. More importantly, physicians visited patients in the bedside-rounds group (Group A) post-operatively, then the next morning and late afternoon, followed by a morning bedside visit on day two. Patients receiving robotic rounds (Group B) got bedside visits at the same intervals in addition to tele-rounds on their first post-operative night, plus at noon, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. the following day.
The robot features an LCD display that projects the surgeon's image to the patient, plus two built-in cameras and a microphone that enable the surgeon to conduct a two-way videoconference, says Dr. Gandsas. "It also has rollers so one can drive the robot using a joystick" connected over an 802.11-G wireless network (with data encryption) to a standard Windows PC, he adds. "With the cameras and monitoring display," says Dr. Gandsas, "the patient can see and hear you. At the same time, you can hear and see the patient, as well as zoom in and move around" as needed. Using the robot, he states, "We were able to identify and quickly correct situations that would have delayed discharge, for example, insufficient hydration, poor breathing (checked through a standard spirometer) or pain that wasn't being sufficiently managed."
Earlier discharges achieved with the $200,000 robot contributed a projected $380,000 to the hospital's bottom line, says Dr. Gandsas. Meanwhile, he says patients welcomed the system with "open arms. It's somewhat like talking on the phone ? patients quickly focus on the conversation, not the technology." Additionally, he notes that earlier studies have shown patients prefer electronic visits with their treating physicians over in-person visits by strangers.