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Monday, February 14, 2005

Cough, Will Robinson! 

We're all for efficient technology, but no way do we let this cast-iron son of a bitch give us a prostate exam:
[F]or a smattering of patients recovering at a handful of hospitals across the country, including Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore and the University of California at Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, the experience is taking a decidedly high-tech turn as the patients come face to face with the brave new world of "telerounding" -- where the follow-up physician bares [sic -- we hope she means "bears" -- S.] more resemblance to Robbie the Robot than Noah Wyle.

Hospitals are experimenting with these robots as a way to let doctors meet with patients more frequently, or conduct virtual visits at multiple hospitals from one location.

The robo-docs looks -- and move -- more like an over-sized steam cleaner than androids [out] of Isaac Asimov. The 5-foot, 200-pound robot is equipped with a screen, zoom video camera, microphone and speakers that allow a physician to speak with and examine their patient and review charts, all while being remotely steered by doctors using videoconferencing and movement controls run through a secure Internet connection that is dropped into a wireless network at the hospital site where the robot is working.

If patients are receptive and doctors are able to catch as much as they would during a conventional in-person visit -- which initial studies indicate is true -- the use of these robots could not only give patients more face time with practitioners but also save hospitals money by allowing patients check out sooner and extend specialized medical care to more rural areas.

"It's much less impersonal than people give it credit for," says Dr. Lars Ellison, an assistant professor at U.C. Davis who designed the robot study which analyzes the effectiveness of this technology.
It's not just the medical profession that's going positronic. You may have read elsewhere that robotic dogs can provide senior citizens with many of the same benefits (exercise, improved morale) as flesh-and-blood pets. But we'll bet you didn't know that the newest generation of cybernetic canines has mastered an even more impressive skill -- lapping up federal grant money:
The Brown County Fire Protection District and the Quincy Fire Department have received grants from the 2004 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Brown County will use its $12,926 grant for fire safety and education equipment including a Dalmatian robot. Dressed in a fire hat and coat, and riding a fire truck, the Dalmatian will be able to roll right up to someone and "talk" with them about fire safety. A second unit features a robot in an ambulance.
We wonder whether the two programs might not be profitably combined. What patient wouldn't look forward to a visit from the Dalmatian Diagnostician? And if robotic doctors catch on with the public, how long will it be until print journalists, and TV newsmen, and the entire White House press corps are all replaced by --

What's that you say? Oh, please, that's crazy talk! Shame on you for thinking it.

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