‘Robotic’ Doctors Graphic
A majority of patients interacting with a health care provider via a video screen mounted on a robot said it was similar to an in-person interaction with a health care worker. (Credits: MIT News, with images from iStockphoto)

In the era of social distancing, using robots for some healthcare interactions is a promising way to reduce in-person contact between healthcare workers and sick patients. However, a key question that needs to be answered is how patients will react to a robot entering the exam room.

Researchers recently set out to answer that question. In a recent study, the team found that a large majority of patients reported that interacting with a healthcare provider via a video screen mounted on a robot was similar to an in-person interaction with a healthcare worker.

They created a mobile robot that could interact with patients as they waited in the emergency department. The robots were equipped with sensors that allow them to measure vital signs, including skin temperature, breathing rate, pulse rate, and blood oxygen saturation. The robots also carried an iPad that allowed for remote video communication with a healthcare provider.

The team is continuing to develop sensors that can obtain vital sign data from patients remotely, and they are working on integrating these systems into smaller robots that could operate in a variety of environments, such as field hospitals or ambulances.

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