Wheel-I-Am makes his telepresence felt at Feros Care

Residential and community aged care provider Feros Care is trialling the use of a telepresence robot nicknamed Wheel-I-Am for remote-controlled video consultations with GPs and specialists.

Wheel-I-Am is from the Double Robotics range of telepresence robots that look like an iPad mounted on a Segway-style electric scooter. The tablet can be used for two-way video consults and in this trial, the GP or specialist is able to remotely move the iPad to the left, right, up or down using their keyboard or direction commands on their smartphones. They can even command the robot to do a 360.

Feros Care is also using Wheel-I-Am in the social setting, taking him out to art galleries and museums where he is able to stream live footage back to the aged care facility, where residents can watch on a big screen. They can also ask questions of the tour guide as if they were actually there.

GP Tony Lembke, who practices in the Northern Rivers region of NSW where Feros Care has three facilities, has been testing Wheel-I-Am to explore its use in telehealth. As part of the trial, Feros Care is reimbursing remote doctors for their time.

“We did a proof of concept test in our surgery and steered it around remotely using my iPhone,” Dr Lembke said. “You can use a keyboard or your iPhone or iPad to steer it. There is a knack to steering it without crashing into things but it doesn't take too long to pick up.”

Feros Care is also working with vascular specialist Deepak Williams to trial remote consultations and management of chronic wounds. In this instance, the remote doctor can command the robot to get closer to the wound and to view it from different angles rather than having to give spoken instructions to a nurse.

Dr Lembke also sees real application in after hours consults between RACFs and GPs, although conventional rounds will still require the physical presence of a doctor.

“We'll often get rung after hours for a wound or a changing condition and being able to talk to the nurse is good, being able to talk to the patient is better and being able to see the patient is better again,” Dr Lembke said.

“There are times when it is appropriate, particularly for particular conditions, but I think this stuff is more about management rather than diagnosis – it's quite suitable for that.”

Both Dr Lembke and Feros Care's eHealth and primary care manager, Shelly Fletcher, say residents have taken to the technology with alacrity. Many have used Skype or other types of video conferencing, particularly Feros Care residents, where the technology is used regularly for both clinical and social purposes.

“The residents are quite accepting of technology like Skyping and video conferencing – most of them have seen it before and most of them loved this,” Dr Lembke said. “Most of them were really excited by it.”

Ms Fletcher said Feros Care had used computers on wheels (COWs) for video conferencing before but that had meant nurses pushing the equipment into position. They have also tried attaching a smartphone to a person's head – usually Ms Fletcher's – to enable the sort of close-ups that some video consults require.

But Wheel-I-Am is something else, she said. “This is automatic and the doctor can remote control it. It's a real spin out.”

Wheel-I-Am even accompanies residents on special outings such as visits to museums and art galleries, and is also set to travel to Feros Care's head office in Coolangatta to attend a big company event. “He needs his own calendar because he's getting booked out,” Ms Fletcher joked.

“It gets on the bus with the residents that are able to go, and for the residents that aren't able to go we stream it through the robot to a laptop and that's connected to a big TV.”

He even went dragon-boat racing, or pretended to, Dr Lembke said. “They arranged all of their tables and chairs so it looked like they were sitting on a dragon boat and all the people were watching the screen as the computer was going down the river. They were pretending to paddle along to make it move.

“Then for the people that they provide care for in their homes, along with the people actually in Feros (RACFs), people all over the state were able to play bingo with the others. It really is neat.”

Posted in Aged Care

Tags: Feros Care

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