WALL-E, Meet EVA: Robo-doc Navigates on Its Own

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was the world’s first hospital to introduce a remote-presence robot into its neurological intensive-care unit in 2005. Now it has introduced the RP-VITA, the first robot able to navigate the hospital on its own.

UCLA staff affectionately dubbed the 5-foot, 5-inch, 176-pound robot EVA, for executive virtual attending physician. Unlike earlier models that physicians steered via a computer-linked joystick, EVA drives on auto-pilot, freeing doctors to devote more time to patient care.

“During a stroke, the loss of a few minutes can mean the difference between preserving or losing brain function,” says Paul Vespa, MD (FEL ’96), director of neurocritical care at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “This new advance enables me to concentrate on caring for my patients without being distracted by the need to set up and manage its technological features.”

With a simple push of an iPad button, Dr. Vespa can send the robot gliding down the hall to a patient’s room. Equipped with 30 sensors that enable it to “see” when its route is blocked by a gurney or curious bystander, EVA possesses the intelligence to self-correct and plot a detour to its destination. After the robot reaches a patient’s bedside, Dr. Vespa can examine the patient in real time. A two-way video monitor in EVA’s “face” enables the patient and doctor to see and hear each other. A 120x zoom capacity allows Dr. Vespa to magnify a single word on the patient’s chart or zero in on the patient’s eyes to check for dilated pupils.

Jointly developed by InTouch Health and iRobotCorp, EVA’s software creates a map of the neuro-ICU floor that is integrated with hospital records, informing the robot where to go when a physician selects a patient on an iPad. Saved in EVA’s memory bank, the map constantly refreshes as patients are admitted and discharged. In the neuro-ICU, where “time is brain,” EVA enables neurosurgeons and neurologists to connect with patients and their family members at a moment’s notice, regardless of where they are. The robot also allows specialists to offer lifesaving consultations on complex cases worldwide at hospitals without neurocritical-care expertise. Encrypted patient data and medical images are easily downloaded from a cloud-based network.

“Consumers nationwide are facing long delays in medical delivery, largely because the healthcare system can’t provide enough physicians in enough locations,” Dr. Vespa says. “We need new technologies that revolutionize physicians’ capacity to see more patients and greatly expand patients’ access to specialized care.”

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