Robots are well-suited to help specialists give remote instructions to nurses to effectively program devices that stimulate the brain and spinal cord, according to research in the journal Neurosurgery.
A remote-presence robot called the "RP-7" was used in the study to "telementor" nurses as they programmed the devices. The stimulation therapy, called neuromodulation, is widely used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and severe chronic pain, but wider use is being explored for conditions such as epilepsy, severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to an announcement.
A small electrode is placed in a precise area of the brain or spine, producing a mild electric current that stimulates the area and disrupts abnormal activity. However, the devices must be programmed.
That's where the robot RP-7 comes in. Its head is a flat-screen monitor which displays the image of the expert tutor giving directions to the nurse, who keys in information to the device on the robot's arm, which holds a touchscreen programmer.
The study consisted of 10 nonexpert nurses instructed to do the programming with the expert in the room and 10 tutored remotely in the process. Both groups were successful, although those using the robots took a little longer--33 minutes versus 26 minutes, on average.
The researchers at Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, also are experimenting with a device called RP-Xpress that's the size of a small suitcase and would help provide remote home visits for patients with implanted neuromodulation devices over cellphones.
Robots are fulfilling a variety of tasks in hospitals, from delivering linens and meals, to providing rehab to stroke victims. A more similar use to the Nova Scotia study comes from Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, where an on-site physician and off-site specialist examine babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.