Can a 'medical rounds robot' ease healthcare staffing woes?

Clinician staffing levels are an increasingly prevalent issue in the healthcare industry, so Japan's Toyohashi University of Technology developed a unique, high-tech solution--the world's first medical rounds robot.

Researchers decided to develop the robot to address the pressures facing the healthcare infrastructure of countries like Japan as their populations age, and as shortages and uneven distribution of clinicians threaten the quality of patient care, according to an announcement from the university. They also sought to solve some of the thorny issues associated with healthcare data management.

Enter "Terapio," a robot that can help healthcare staff deliver resources and record information gathered during rounds with the goal of replacing the conventional medical cart, according to its developers. Terapio moves on its own as it "autonomously tracks a specified human," recording patients' vital signs and displaying data such as electronic health records. An operator can control the robot's movements as well as recognize and alter its three operation modes--"tracking," "power assist" and "rounds."

Researchers also sought to make Terapio personable by designing its LCD-display "face" to feature human-like eyes that change shape to communicate different expressions. "As we were developing Terapio, we could clearly imagine the human-robot symbiosis," assistant professor Ryosuke Tasaki said in the announcement. "By constantly promoting the pursuit of system integration technology, life with robots will be a reality in the near future."

Though it may be the only one designed to carry out medical rounds, Terapio is hardly the first robot to enter the healthcare sector. Boston Children's Hospital has a program that sends young patients home with mobile robots to facilitate telehealth visits, and UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay in San Francisco debuted a fleet of 25 robots that carry blood samples, food, medication and other supplies around the hospital, FierceHealthIT has reported. Robots also have become a fixture in the operating room, though some argue that hospitals exaggerate the benefits of robotic surgery.

To learn more:
- read the announcement

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