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Robotic system could distinguish between minor and severe cases, helping those who require immediate attention seek help sooner

Computer engineers and specialists in emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University have merged together to study the advantages of allowing robots to work in an emergency room setting. 

Kazuhiko Kawamura, project director and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, along with Mitch Wilkes, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Karen Miller, senior associate in emergency medicine, have come together to form an interdisciplinary team that investigates the pros and cons of bringing robots into the ER.

According to Miller, approximately 40 percent of patients who arrive at the ER have life-threatening or potentially fatal conditions that require immediate attention. It is difficult for ER personnel to handle everyone at once, and the Vanderbilt team believe that robots can fill in for the remaining 60 percent of patients who do not require immediate attention. 

The robotic system, called TriageBot, is a network of cognitive robots capable of working in an ER setting. The system works by first providing a robot assistant in the form of a kiosk where patients can register their information. For existing patients, electronic information will already be saved in the system from previous visits and can be accessed through proper security measures. Then, through a series of voice prompts and a touch screen service, patients can report their ailment(s). If a patient reports a serious health issue such as chest pain, the robot kiosk will alert medical staff immediately. If a patient reports a problem less severe, then the robot will provide a wait time and direct the patient to the waiting area.

In addition to kiosk robots, mobile robots may be available to roam the waiting room to check on patients' conditions. Also, triage nurse assistant robots could take a patient's blood pressure, respiration rate, height, weight, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate right in the waiting room. The head of the TriageBot hierarchy will be a supervisor that communicates with medical staff and watches over the other robots. 

With this proposed robotic system, all of the basic information will be gathered and tests performed before a patient even leaves the waiting room. This setup could help medical staff immensely by having the information they need available for them before the patient even comes in. This makes wait time at the hospital shorter, and insures that those who need attention quickly will receive it before others who do not. 

"Advances in humanoid design, in sensor technology and in cognitive control architectures now make such as system feasible," said Wilkes. 

Researchers still have a few hurdles to jump before this project can advance to the next stage, such as what form the robots will take and how well they will work in a stressful environment. 

"The exact form that the robot assistants will take will depend on how patients respond," said Kawamura. "The design will be critical because patients need to have confidence in these devices. 

"Our architecture is designed to allow robots to integrate quick decision-making with the more common deliberate decision-making process in flexible ways. If cognitive robots are to operate successfully in a human environment, they must be able to choose actions with a similar rapidity, particularly in a chaotic environment like the emergency room."

The paper, "Heterogenous Artificial Agents for Triage Nurse Assistance," was presented at the Humanoids 2010 conference in Nashville on December 6. 

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By lainofthewired on 12/8/2010 1:54:27 PM , Rating: 5
>Vanderbilt University

Not in Japan? I'm shocked.

>Kazuhiko Kawamura

Never mind.

RE: Robots
By muIIet on 12/9/2010 12:40:09 AM , Rating: 2
When I see R2D2 then I will be happy.

ER Salvation
By MWCORE on 12/8/2010 2:10:50 PM , Rating: 2
All joking aside, I work in a very large 70 bed ER and I can tell you the only time we become overwhelmed is when there is an influx of actuall patients and an influx of "fake" patients. The largest majority of our census are cases that should be seen by a Family Physician or some other Urgent Care facility. However, not everyone has access to that kind of medical care so we become over run with patients requiring basic care and tests. I am not trying to sound brazen or say that the majority of ER visits don't need medical care because they do, it is just they don't need it in the hospital.

What we need is an App for Triagebot that can assist people in determining where they need treatment, or if they need it. When you are in pain or otherwise sick or injured it becomes difficult to determine this seemingly basic task. Unfortunately the lawyers will kill that before it ever exists. Which brings us to the real problem: LIABILITY.

An ER cannot scale down care like your family doctor can. If I show up to my doctor "sick" I get a script and go home. In the ER I get a team of nurses and doctors performing numerous blood tests "rapidly"...anything rapid is morbidly expensive. The expectation of care is different and therefore prohibitively expensive for the average consumer. For example, I got sutures on a Sunday which would have cost me 100-300 dollars cash at my regular docs office, instead I had to go to the ER and it cost me 700 dollars! Afterall if you don't have insurance and you aren't rich you can't afford care in a hospital, so the rest of us will pay.

Getting back on track Triagebot sounds promising, but it merely masks the real problems occuring in our Emergency Departments across America. The solution isn't simple and includes a reduction in litigation, population education and access to healthcare outside of the hospital environment. I can't say I truly support "universal healthcare", mainly because Europe is bankrupting under that mandate. But then what is the answer? The ER is just one aspect of the entire problem. But, this one aspect is the Canary in the Coal Mine and it is screaming for help.

RE: ER Salvation
By TeXWiller on 12/9/2010 12:06:07 AM , Rating: 2
I can't say I truly support "universal healthcare", mainly because Europe is bankrupting under that mandate.
The universal healthcare talked about in the US seems to be different from the various healthcare systems of Europe. The British system is the only one I know of where you can receive free universal healthcare with limitations. This is not at all so in my home country, with various payments for each individual service. Of course, the prices are a lot less than in the private sector. The public services are mostly used by the poor, the old, the people with long term conditions, and others not using their occupational healthcare services.

There are a lot more in the budget for the social sector, outside of healthcare, costing various amounts to the tax payers like pensions, unemployment, disabilities and the multitude of others amounting to 25 percent of the GNP in where I live. The concrete availability of health services is similar to the US where you sometimes need to vigorously defend your case in order to get a proper treatment, particularly for long-term, nonlethal conditions difficult to diagnose.

we become overwhelmed is when there is an influx of actuall patients and an influx of "fake" patients. The largest majority of our census are cases that should be seen by a Family Physician or some other Urgent Care facility.
This problem won't go away, even with the universal health care. The ED, or a hospital, is usually the only available open care facility during nights. Prioritizing by other means (like education) is really the only solution, with the liability issues going way by repeatable (as much as possible), standardized, fair and reasonable processes.

They already are
By MWCORE on 12/8/2010 1:45:13 PM , Rating: 2
I could have sworn they already did.

By Smartless on 12/8/2010 2:19:27 PM , Rating: 2
But basically the "robotic" portion of this is the fact that the kiosk will move? I mean so far it just seems like passing around a laptop would do the same thing. Half the fun of an ER room visit is filling out all the paperwork anyway.

By kfonda on 12/8/2010 10:32:56 PM , Rating: 2
All I can think of is the hospital scene from the movie Idiocracy.

...this one goes in your mouth, this one in your butt, no wait...this on goes in your mouth...

That really stupid movie is getting closer and closer to reality.

By zodiacfml on 12/8/2010 11:59:13 PM , Rating: 2
why need a robot for functions that be implemented without it.

I can't help but....
By chagrinnin on 12/9/2010 2:11:07 AM , Rating: 2
...imagine the U-Scan at the grocery stores,...

"Please pass your injury through the scanner."
"Press '1' if this is your Liver."
"Press '2' if this is your Spleen."
"Please place your..."Liver"... in the plastic bag."
"Please place your..."Liver"... in the plastic bag."
"Please place your..."Liver"... in the plastic bag."
"Please wait for an assistant."
"Will you be paying by check?"

Pros and cons
By Paj on 12/9/2010 7:47:45 AM , Rating: 1
Developing the algorithms for this robot to determine the condition of its patients is likely to be fraught with difficulties. Theyd really have to test the shit out of it and make it iron clad.

That, and the first minute a patient is misdiagnosed and ends up dying from brain-ebola, the litigious nature of society would spell an end to the whole thing.

Which is a shame, as if done properly this could have a positive impact on waiting rooms around the world. If the diagnosis methods are sophisticated enough, it could free up staff to deal with the cases that do require human diagnosis and intervention.

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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