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'Sister Mary' the robo-doc to start making ward rounds at St Mary's Hospital

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-St Mary's NHS Trust web site
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Imperial College London and St Mary's NHS Trust News Release

For immediate release
Wednesday 18 May 2005

St Mary's NHS Trust and Imperial College London are piloting a scheme where medical robots will cover ward rounds.

Remote Presence (RP6) Robots allow a medical expert to visually examine and communicate with a patient from anywhere in the world, via the machine, using wireless technology. The robots (nicknamed by staff Sister Mary and Dr Robbie) can also be used for surgical teaching and even videoconferencing.

The robots are controlled with a joystick from a remote site. The doctor 'driving' the robot can view the patient, ask questions and read patient records, view X-rays and test results from the console. The patient sees the doctor's image on the robots 'face'.

Although the robot does not physically examine the patient it allows face-to-face contact between the doctor and patient, providing immediate access to specialists.

Parv Sains, project lead, Surgical Specialist Registrar and Research Fellow, said benefits include allowing patients direct access to experts worldwide and to the doctor who performed their surgery, even if they cannot be physically at the patient's bedside.

"If a specialist is at a conference in California but their medical opinion is needed for a St Mary's patient or to deliver a lecture to junior doctors the RP6 robot provides an instant and global link at any time of the day or night.

"Our robots certainly would never replace all doctors on ward rounds, but they are a communication tool which allows a doctor to have direct contact with their patient if they are unable to get to them.

"If we look at a lot of the current strains on the NHS many senior doctors with skills and knowledge are required to be in several places at once. This is a solution in potentially providing their expertise from a remote location and may be a significant step for patient care."

The robots are being trialled in a General Surgery Ward and A&E Department within St Mary's Hospital and for training purposes, at Imperial College's Academic and Clinical Skills Unit. This is the only site in the UK and one of just a handful worldwide, including one in Europe, and three in the USA.

The RP6 robots are the latest strand in the pioneering integration of robots into healthcare by Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Head of Imperial's Division of Surgery, Anaesthetics and Intensive Care and a practising surgeon at St Mary's.

Professor Sir Ara Darzi adds: "This is a revolutionary concept which opens new avenues for telemedicine research and integrates technology with healthcare at a grass roots level, increasing the interface between patients, clinicians and teaching staff."

As part of the pilot, a study is being conducted to evaluate how patients respond to the robots, specific communications skills required for remote presence teleconsultation and potential applications of the technology in clinical healthcare delivery and training.


For further information please contact:

Tony Stephenson
Press Officer
Communications Department
Imperial College London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6712
Mobile: +44 (0)7753 739766

Sarah Prestwood
Communications Manager
St Mary's NHS Trust
Tel: +44 (0)20 7886 7783

Notes to editors:

1. Picture of the RP6 robot available in 300 dpi.

2. Funding has been provided by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, a charitable trust for medical research.

3. The RP6 was developed by US robotics company, InTouch Health. St Mary's and imperial College London are the first UK hospital to trial the robots and only the fifth worldwide. Three robots have been piloted in the US and one in Strasbourg, France.

4. The robot runs on a wireless system with the doctor at another location. It is controlled via a secure broadband internet connection. The doctor (controller) and patient are able to have a real-time two way audiovisual interaction, with the controller in full command of the robots movements, head monitor and camera.

5. St Mary's NHS Trust is currently negotiating with London National Programme for IT for an earlier implementation of the Philips Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) in 2006/07 which will enable patient records, x-rays and test results to be accessed on the RP-6 Robot.