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Robots let doctors 'beam' into remote hospitals

  • In this photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 Dr. Alan Shatzel, medical director of the Mercy Telehealth Network, is displayed on the monitor RP-VITA robot as he waits to confer with Dr. Alex Nee at Mercy San Juan Hospital in Carmichael, Calif. The robots enable physicians to have "beam" themselves into hospitals to diagnose patients and offer medical advice during emergencies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

CARMICHAEL — The doctor isn't in, but he can still see you now.

Remote presence robots are allowing physicians to "beam" themselves into hospitals to diagnose patients and offer medical advice during emergencies.

A growing number of hospitals in California and other states are using telepresence robots to expand access to medical specialists, especially in rural areas where there's a shortage of doctors.

These mobile video-conferencing machines move on wheels and typically stand about 5 feet, with a large screen that projects a doctor's face. They feature cameras, microphones and speakers that allow physicians and patients to see and talk to each other.

Dignity Health, which runs Arizona, California and Nevada hospitals, began using the telemedicine machines five years ago to diagnose patients suspected of suffering strokes — when every minute is crucial to prevent serious brain damage.


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