17 Jan 2022

Telemedicine robot devices arrive as NHS waiting lists continue to rise

Telemedicine robots can be placed at a patient bedside, enabling specialist consultants to see, hear and speak with patients as if they were at their bedside – even if they are at a different hospital or at home shielding with Covid symptoms.

Record waiting list numbers in excess of six million people will continue to rise due to the unprecedented demand caused by coronavirus, leading to further delays for those awaiting elective hospital treatment. Clearly there is an urgent requirement to combat the backlog.

Increased use of technology allows for greater staffing efficiency and improved outcomes for patients. Consultant Connect was set up in 2015 to reduce the incidence of patients being sent to hospital unnecessarily. They are working with around 90 clinical commissioning groups, 4,100 GP surgeries, 7,000 consultants and over 120 hospitals across the UK. Now, the acquisition in January of Consultant Connect by US telemedicine firm Teladoc has brought additional robot technology to the UK.

Jonathan Patrick, CEO of Consultant Connect, said: “These devices are a hugely exciting development in telemedicine and one that will revolutionise efficiency in the NHS. They buy back time for specialist consultants which will ease pressure on staff. That in turn will reduce waiting times for patients and provide them with better outcomes.”

Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool used two telemedicine devices during the pandemic which enabled them to keep a full neonatal service running.

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has begun using the devices during a ward round. Dr Steve Jackson, Consultant Physician and Chief Medical Information Officer, said: “With the Teladoc robot I can be doing a ward round on one site in the morning and have a clinic booked immediately afterwards in the afternoon at another. The system allows for greater efficiency because I’m not having to add travel time or risk being delayed in traffic. This means I’m able to spend more time with patients and I have more opportunity to discuss their plans and care. I am also able to review patients who are admitted to my ward between my formal ward rounds and this means that they may be discharged earlier.

“The image and sound quality of the system are excellent and allow me to see and talk to the patient, alongside onsite junior doctors, while having all the relevant medical records at hand – something you’re not able to do via a phone call. Another potential benefit to patients is the increased access to specialists on other sites.”

More hospitals in England and Scotland plan to adopt the technology soon.

Device functionality

The telemedicine device uses two ultra-high-definition cameras which enable a consultant to see scans, take a temperature or read hand-written bedside notes. Powerful batteries allow it to run off-power for four hours. It is height-adjustable with a pan-tilt and zoom head, allowing a consultant to study monitors. The remote consultant can grab images of a scan, send it down to the device by the bedside and annotate it in real time for the medical team with the patient. Boom cameras with a 36x zoom can look down on a patient in close detail. Consultants can also listen in to a stethoscope to hear a heartbeat in real time.