HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Robo-Doc: Cure for Our Health Care System

Medpage Today has the solution for our current health care crisis - the Robo-doc:

Specialists at University of Louisville Health Care on Thursday began using a robot to remotely treat patients at Owensboro Medical Health System in western Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. 

Specialists in areas such as neurology, cardiology and maternal-fetal medicine can use InTouch Technologies' RP-7 robot to consult with patients, observe vital signs on monitors and check heart rates, blood pressure readings or sonograms. The specialists in Louisville control the system using laptops and joysticks and receive help from doctors or nurses in Owensboro.

The robot system is the first in the state and one of about 130 being used worldwide, the Courier-Journal reports. University of Louisville Health Care officials did not disclose how much they paid for the system, but InTouch officials said each control station costs $2,500 and robots can be leased for five years for $5,000 per month.

Officials said the robot system could help counter Kentucky's physician shortage, specifically in rural areas. While 43% of the state's population lives in rural areas, just 23% of physicians practice in rural areas, according to the Courier-Journal. In addition, most medical experts and specialists practice in urban areas like Louisville and Lexington.

I think this is a really cool idea. Just replace us with robots! If you look at the lease rates, it really is affordable - especially when they have "double dollar days" at the robot dealership. At this rate, the pay is actually even less than you pay a midlevel provider ($60,000 per year), plus you don't have to worry about benefits, vacations, sickness, or even CME.

The downside is that you have to have real physicians at the other end controlling the joy sticks. This reduces the overall efficiency of the process and really cuts into the cost savings of having an independent robot doctor. Dealing with cranky human doctors is just a nuisance that we should not have to deal with.

So here is my solution.  Train a bunch of Grade School kids on Trauma Center: Second Opinion for the Nintendo Wii. Then they can control the robots remotely. This is a great idea because kids are far better at this kind of thing than are adults. My kids can cream me at driving games, even though I am a better driver in real life than they are. They can transform into a wolf and get enough jewels to open a magic trunk better than I can, but in real life I am far better at doing this. They can get their Bulbasaur to successfully defeat someone with a high-level Toxicroak using a vine whip attack, when...well, they are actually better at that in real life than I am. I was never good at the vine whip.

The rest of the article and suggestions are also quite fun.  I wonder if this idea will catch on . . . .

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