Read Newshubs article ‘Robot doctors’ being trialled in Waikato, Thames.
Dougie and Daphne aren’t your typical Waikato DHB staff members.
The new duo recently got their photo IDs, but outside of this normality their unique fisheye views with high-definition, ease of mobility and access to remote and rural patients could help specialists at Waikato Hospital intervene earlier to save a patient’s life.
That’s because Dougie and Daphne are New Zealand’s first-of-its-kind clinical robots.
They’re on trial to allow Waikato Hospital specialists like Dr Paul Huggan the ability to simply log-on to a hospital computer or a mobile app, have his face instantly visible on the robot screen and navigate to where needed with his fingertips.
“These robots can help us bring care closer to patients wherever they present, especially those in rapid health decline,” says Dr Huggan, a consultant in general medicine and infectious diseases and director of physician education at Waikato DHB.
“Dougie and Daphne are mobile and can navigate around clinical areas; they have the potential to save valuable time getting specialist help to where it’s needed”.
Paul is working with colleagues Jeweleigh Bates and Driden Kunaka on a six month trial of the robots, sponsored by the Waikato DHB virtual care program. The trio are collaborating with staff at the University of Waikato and at Thames Hospital, where virtual care is making a real difference to patient care.
While Dougie is socialising with staff and patients in Thames, Daphne helps out at the Waikato Hospital Acute Medicine Unit.
“There are a number of ways that this telepresence technology could help us make better decisions. I work with infectious diseases and sometimes you just have to be with a person face to face to get a proper feel for their situation” says Dr Huggan.
“With the robots as our eyes and ears on the ground the aim will be to make faster assessments to support patients, families and clinical teams.”
The project team have faced all sorts of challenges making sure Dougie and Daphne can operate safely on the wards.
“The key is to make sure that everything works first time and that everyone feels safe and comfortable with the technology. For example, you don’t want Dougie’s driver knocking things over in a hospital corridor so we decided that everyone would have to do some training and pass a driving test before going solo!”
This is one part of a major effort to engage staff in learning how new technology can bring value to healthcare.
“It’s a hard thing to improve services in a region like this where many people have complex needs and live a long way from where many specialist services are based. The robot puts us right there with the people we’re trying to help. The response from staff and patients who’ve used it has been fantastic.”