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Robots Delivering Medical News


In March 2019, a critically ill man in Fremont, California’s Kaiser Permanente Medical Center was told he was dying … by a robot.

The man, Ernest Quintana, had been sitting in his hospital room when a “telepresence robot” rolled into the room. Via a video screen that livestreams conversations between patients and physicians, Quintana, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was told there was nothing more they could do to treat him. He was told options for managing his pain while a nurse and his granddaughter looked on.

Mr. Quintana died the next day. His granddaughter’s video of a portion of the interchange soon went viral.

How Do These Telepresence Robots Work?

The robots in use in hospitals today are about 5 feet tall and have cameras that work in both directions. The screen is at about eye level.

The mobile units can move from room to room, allowing for patients and physicians to interact. Where applicable, a doctor can instruct a nurse or physician’s assistant to complete treatments or conduct tests.

Why Use These Robots?

In locations that do not have easy access to physicians and specialists, or where physicians must cover great distances, the robots are a cost-effective way for doctors to see and treat more patients.

There are other benefits to using robots. For one, doctors today spend much of their time when interacting with patients taking notes. If robots were equipped with recording and advanced transcription services, physicians can spend more time being present with their patients, listening and observing.

Eventually, it’s possible that digital medicine could be made available in a patient’s home, allowing for less time going to and from physicians’ offices and waiting for the doctor while uncomfortable or not feeling well. In the Fremont incident, it is believed the robot technology was used to provide nurses and patients with access to a medical specialist during the evening.

Was A Line Crossed in this Case?

Some believe that although the physician may have been well-intentioned in this case, telling a person they’re dying via a television screen is not ideal and crosses a line. Critics worry that technology may create more distance between patients and physicians. If not thoughtfully deployed, digital medicine could erode the trust and compassion necessary for effective patient-physician interactions.

What Does This Mean for Technical Innovation?

The incident highlights the need for more care and consideration when it comes to deciding what technologies to use. That’s the case with any technology and why having trusting partners is so important. At the Alvarez Technology Group, we work with customers to deliver IT consulting services and solutions that help optimize the use of technology. To learn more about how Alvarez Technology Group can help your company maximize its technology investment, contact us today.

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