Robot enabling overseas doctors to consult with patients

Rheumatologist Dr. Santiago De Solo consults with patient Susan Clifford-Ebanks in the HSA’s new telemedicine suite through the Sally robot. Photo: HSA

With Cayman’s borders closed, visiting specialists at the Health Services Authority have not been able to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions, but a robot and a telemedicine suite are enabling them to consult with patients.

The dedicated suite in the Specialist Clinic means patients and overseas consultants can communicate in real time. It includes a consultation room, an examination room and a next generation InTouch Health RP-Lite 4 telemedicine robot, nicknamed ‘Sally’.

For patient Susan Clifford-Ebanks, she was initially unsure about how consulting with rheumatologist Dr. Santiago De Solo via robot would work.

“I was a bit reluctant at first because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” she said. “It’s quite comfortable and it’s been an excellent session.

She added, “I feel like he’s in the room. It’s been a good experience… I’m excited to continue using [the robot].”

The HSA, in a statement Thursday, said, “Patients can see, hear and interact with their physicians in real time with the robot. A nurse also remains in the room or nearby to conduct check-ups or provide support when necessary.”

HSA patient Susan Clifford-Ebanks using the Sally robot for a consultation. – Photo: HSA

The robot is equipped with high-definition cameras that provide a clear view for the detailed and close examination required by many specialties such as dermatology, which Dr. Andrea Clare-Lyn Shue welcomed.

“Telemedicine has so far proven to be very beneficial and useful to our dermatology patients in these difficult times of COVID-19,” she said, adding that during her examination, the patient gives a history of their problems.

“I control the robot via the computer. I can zoom in on any area of the skin and see everything clearly in order to make my diagnosis. Patients are welcoming this new service; though it is different from what they are used to, they are adapting well,” the dermatologist said.

She said, until normalcy returns, “we hope to make this a vibrant and effective service for all persons on the island”.

In addition to telemedicine robots, the HSA said it has been utilising other forms of telehealth such as video chats and telephone to consult with and triage patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

HSA Medical Director Dr. Delroy Jefferson explained that expanding the authority’s telemedicine capabilities is only the first step.

“Telemedicine services promise convenience, broader access to specialists, cost savings and collaborations among health care professionals who may be located in multiple countries,” Jefferson said, adding, “All this potentially leads to better health outcomes.”

He pointed out that there were other benefits as well.

“As the world braces for public health emergencies such as the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), leveraging telemedicine to combat disease is crucial. Telemedicine proves extremely beneficial in the area of infection control because it reduces patients’ exposure to viruses as well as minimizes exposure among the hospital’s own medical staff. It also minimizes the use personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic therefore saving costs in PPE,” Jefferson said.

HSA psychiatrist Dr. Toni-Ann Heron was among the first overseas users of telemedicine at the authority.

According to the HSA statement, prior to the launch of the telemedicine suite, she used ‘Sally’ to continue providing care to some of her regular patients in the Cayman Islands while she pursued a subspecialisation in neuropsychiatry overseas at King’s College London.

“Psychiatry is being able to foster that connection with the patient in which they feel they are in a private setting and are being listened to,” said Heron. “This was very easy to replicate over Sally robot, even for the adolescents and older patients who experience anxiety and depression. It is comparable to our in-person meetings in my office.”

She said patients and their families have given feedback that they feel comfortable.

“I have observed that they disclose as much as they usually would,” she added.

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