You're lying in a hospital bed when a physician comes through the door. He has the standard white coat and stethoscope, but rather than carrying your chart in his hands he's followed by a small robot. The slim, wheeled device parks near the foot of your bed and brings your chart up on the screen that tops its body. You notice that the doctor directs comments to the robot, which responds by placing a text block next to the information you can see on your chart. When changes in medication are ordered, a form flashes on the screen, which the doctor checks and approves with radio-buttons and a finger-scrawled signature. When the visit is complete, the robot quietly follows the doctor out of the room.
Congratulations! You've just had a doctor's visit in the future as envisioned by Singapore-based CtrlWorks. The unusual thing about this isn't that we're being shown a future vision, but that the future in the story begins next month. According to an article at Singularity Hub, doctors at Khoo Teck Puat hospital in Singapore will be shadowed by robots, named "Puppets" by CtrlWorks, beginning next month. The really impressive thing, though, is that the company sees the doctor's assistance model as just the beginning of the robots' possible use.
Ultimately, CtrlWorks proposes that a doctor could sit at a single console and send Puppets into hospital rooms all across a city, a region, or even a nation. There's no reason, in this model, that the doctor should ever have to waste time traveling from room to room or facility to facility in order to see patients. It's not hard to imagine the Doctor Puppet going into a hospital room shadowed by a nurse, who could take care of patient manipulation, reading subtle patient cues, and administering medications or treatments on an immediate basis.
Here at Enterprise Efficiency we've covered telemonitoring and home health robots in the past. The difference in the CtrlWorks scheme is that it doesn't intend to replace the doctor in housecalls, or save on time in the hospital. Rather, it is an attempt to maximize the impact of doctors on patients already in hospital.
This is going to be a touchy area for CIOs. On the one hand, most physicians will appreciate technology that lowers travel requirements on their schedules, and that allows them to see more patients while possibly retaining some semblance of a life. On the other hand, patients (and nurses, too, if you catch them off duty) already complain about doctors who have no discernable "people skills." For these "human mechanics," a bedside manner is an archaic relic of a bygone era, like the black leather satchel filled with pills and unguents that accompanied their forebears on housecalls.
Savvy healthcare CIOs will want to call in experts from other fields in a translational, multi-discipline approach to retaining patient confidence and comfort while maximizing the time-value of physicians. Ultimately, we could see a multi-tier system in which generalist physicians make rounds accompanied by specialists who show up by Puppet. No matter how many tiers there are, though, the one certainty is that the CIO will ultimately be responsible for making it work -- and will be the one person for whom no robot replacement is possible.