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The RP7 mobile robot can roll to a patient’s bedside and enable two-way, real-time communication between a physician and a patient, the patient’s family, other physicians and nurses.

The RP7 mobile robot can roll to a patient’s bedside and enable two-way, real-time communication between a physician and a patient, the patient’s family, other physicians and nurses. (Courtesy of the U.S. Army)

LANDSTUHL, Germany — After more than a year of gathering dust, a robot donated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is on its way back to the States.

In its only use at Landstuhl, the robot beamed video of the hospital’s ICU to a conference in Florida, and conference participants were able to drive it.

When asked to show off the robot last week, a Landstuhl doctor said he thought it was already packed for shipment.

"They wanted it back in the United States so they could do other things with it," said Army Col. (Dr.) Stephen Flaherty, Landstuhl’s chief of surgery and trauma program director. "I’m not exactly sure where they’re going to send it or what they’re going to do with it. They had other things they wanted to do with it rather than to sit."

"They" is the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. The robot is scheduled to be moved to a new location for its clinical implementation, according to Qualcomm, the company which donated the robot to Landstuhl.

About a year ago, Qualcomm donated the RP7 robot, four remote control laptop devices and a year of support services to be used at Landstuhl, according to an Army news release. The upright robot can transmit and receive audio and video and can be driven by remote control.

In theory, the robot would be positioned at a hospital, and a doctor — from home, another office or even on vacation — could control the robot remotely to check on patients and interact with staff.

Qualcomm made it sound as if the $150,000 robot had been put through the paces at Landstuhl.

"The RP7 robot has undergone preliminary technical testing by the Army Medical Department at Landstuhl to better understand how this emerging technology can be incorporated into the military’s network infrastructure, as well as, how such a system can be utilized to deliver remote healthcare services," according to an e-mail this week from Qualcomm spokeswoman Yennie Rautenberg.

One reason why Landstuhl never really used the robot is because doctors are in the hospital all the time, Flaherty said.

"I have a doctor in the ICU 24 hours a day because we’ve been so busy," he said. "It’s been hard for us to see the role for it."

The hospital had some unique mentorship-type projects it tried to make happen via the robot, but because of technical and legal limitations, they didn’t take place, Flaherty said. The legal limitations surround the transmission of patient information over airwaves.

Landstuhl isn’t the only Army medical center having issues with its robot.

"The people who run the system tell us they’re having trouble getting the robot running at Madigan (Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash.) for the same problems that we’re having here, which is issues with the firewall and ensuing that there is integrity of the signal and other people can’t have access to it," Flaherty said.

On the other hand, the Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, has been using an RP7 robot since 2006 with great success. Army Maj. (Dr.) Kevin Chung, medical director for the Institute of Surgical Research’s burn intensive care unit, uses it whenever he’s on call for the ICU. If something comes up, he can log on the robot from home. On a recent deployment to Iraq, Chung was able to access the robot in Texas to check on patients.

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