Background: The introduction of the RP6 (InTouch Health, Santa Barbara, CA, USA) remote-presence "robot" appears to offer a useful telemedicine device. The authors describe the deployment and early experience with the RP6 in a community hospital and provided a live demonstration of the system on April 16, 2005 during the Emerging Technologies Session of the 2005 SAGES Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Methods: The RP6 is a 5-ft 4-in. tall, 215-pound robot that can be remotely controlled from an appropriately configured computer located anywhere on the Internet (i.e., on this planet). The system is composed of a control station (a computer at the central station), a mechanical robot, a wireless network (at the remote facility: the hospital), and a high-speed Internet connection at both the remote (hospital) and central locations. The robot itself houses a rechargeable power supply. Its hardware and software allows communication over the Internet with the central station, interpretation of commands from the central station, and conversion of the commands into mechanical and nonmechanical actions at the remote location, which are communicated back to the central station over the Internet. The RP6 system allows the central party (e.g., physician) to control the movements of the robot itself, see and hear at the remote location (hospital), and be seen and heard at the remote location (hospital) while not physically there.
Results: Deployment of the RP6 system at the hospital was accomplished in less than a day. The wireless network at the institution was already in place. The control station setup time ranged from 1 to 4 h and was dependent primarily on the quality of the Internet connection (bandwidth) at the remote locations. Patients who visited with the RP6 on their discharge day could be discharged more than 4 h earlier than with conventional visits, thereby freeing up hospital beds on a busy med-surg floor. Patient visits during "off hours" (nights and weekends) were three times more efficient than conventional visits during these times (20 min per visit vs 40-min round trip travel + 20-min visit). Patients and nursing personnel both expressed tremendous satisfaction with the remote-presence interaction.
Conclusions: The authors' early experience suggests a significant benefit to patients, hospitals, and physicians with the use of RP6. The implications for future development are enormous.