The staff of Tygerberg Hospital, the Western Cape’s demarcated COVID-19 point-of-call medical facility, are receiving help from a robotic colleague. A new ‘infection-resistant’ assistant called Quintin has been employed to help complete ward rounds.

The robot is used by medical staff to perform virtual rounds to check on patients, even if the staff are not physically present themselves.

Speaking to IOL, Coenie Koegelenberg, who is a professor in pulmonology at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), assured ICU specialists that they are able to perform their ward rounds remotely with robots, as they cannot be infected by the coronavirus.

“Between the specialists, we will share the workload of Covid-19 patients who end up in ICU. The odds of at least one or all of us falling ill are quite high, so we need to realistically plan for what could happen,” Koegelenberg said. “If any of the specialists get the virus and is unable to physically go to work, we will be able to function remotely using the robot, from a phone or a laptop.”

“Using this device will enable us to provide a service if our skills sets are in short supply.”

According to the professor, the idea of using robots was borne from a combination of ideas from many contributors. “We started wondering how we could help more people if we ourselves were to fall ill,” he said.

“On Wednesday 18 March, on my way home after many meetings, I wondered whether ‘virtual’ ward rounds in many ICUs could be feasible. I phoned my wife and shared my thoughts. I had thought of using a fancy ‘nanny cam’ she bought a few years ago,” Koegelenberg said in reference to his wife, dermatologist Dr Suretha Kannaberg. “She suggested using the Sunskill laboratory’s Double Robotic ‘robot’ instead. (Sunskill is a state of the art clinical training facility at the FMHS.) I was not familiar with this device. The next day I met with Professor Ian Vlok from the FMHS’ Division of Neurosurgery and the Sunskill facilities manager, Bronwyn Stockenstrom, who gave me a ‘crash course’ on how to use the Double Robotic ‘robot’.”

The device was tested on Friday, April 10.

“It was truly an eye-opener and a potential game-changer in this and future similar pandemics. It was a remarkable success! We both concluded (with more than 30 years of combined experience in ICU) that our physical presence was not required, and that the technology has great potential to be rolled out,” he added.

Quintin will enable doctors to carry out ward round duties while being in self-quarantine themselves. It will also enable them to work from home, as it can be controlled with a desktop, tablet or smartphone.

Communication between the patient and doctor is enabled through the use of a zoom function and microphone, which can relay vital sign of patients who are highly infectious.

Such robots were first used in Italy, where the pandemic claimed many lives.

Picture: Twitter

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