While an explosion in technological sophistication has revolutionized surgery within the operating theatre, delivery of surgical ward-based care has seen little innovation. Use of telepresence allowing off-site clinicians communicate with patients has been largely restricted to outpatient settings or use of complex, expensive, static devices. We designed a prospective study to ascertain feasibility and face validity of a remotely controlled mobile audiovisual drone (LUCY) to access inpatients. This device is, uniquely, lightweight, freely mobile and emulates 'human' interaction by swiveling and adjusting height to patients' eye-level. METHODS: Robot-assisted ward rounds(RASWR) were conducted over 3 months. A remotely located consultant surgeon communicated with patients/bedside teams via encrypted audiovisual telepresence robot (DoubleRoboticstm, California USA). Likert-scale satisfaction questionnaires, incorporating free-text sections for mixed-methods data collection, were disseminated to patient and staff volunteers following RASWRs. The same cohort completed a linked questionnaire following conventional (gold-standard) rounds, acting as control group. Data were paired, and non-parametric analysis performed. RESULTS: RASWRs are feasible (>90% completed without technical difficulty). The RASWR(n=52 observations) demonstrated face validity with strong correlations (r>0.7; Spearman, p-value <0.05) between robotic and conventional ward rounds among patients and staff on core themes, including dignity/confidentiality/communication/satisfaction with management plan. Patients (96.08%, n=25) agreed RASWR were a satisfactory alternative when consultant physical presence was not possible. There was acceptance of nursing/NCHD cohort (100% (n=11) willing to regularly partake in RASWR). CONCLUSION: RASWRs receive high levels of patient and staff acceptance, and offer a valid alternative to conventional ward rounds when a consultant cannot be physically present.
Keywords: face validity; robot; surgical care; telemedicine; ward rounds.