Northern Sask to benefit from remote presence robots
October 18, 2017
SASKATOON – Children in northern Saskatchewan will soon have easier access to psychiatrists to address what has been called a mental health crisis. Two Remote Presence Technology (RPT) units have been purchased with a $500,000 donation from RBC to the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.
The RPTs will be deployed in the coming months to communities with the greatest need. “When somebody is being cut down after trying to hang themselves and coming into the emergency department,” Dr. Veronica McKinney said, “it’s a huge crisis that we have.”
McKinney is the director of Northern Medical Services and hopes these new “robots” will bridge the gap to the north, and improve access to healthcare. Doctors in Saskatoon and Regina will be able to maneuver the robot through the halls of healthcare centres and visually assess patients from afar.
With interactive technology, the RPTs are able to turn toward whoever is speaking, and the face of the doctor behind the machine is clearly visible to the patient.
“These systems have the potential to do examinations, ultrasound, stethoscope, they can look at, for example, the oxygen in the blood,” explained Dr. Ivar Mendez, who helped bring the first robots to Saskatchewan through a pilot project in 2013.
Those RPTs are still in use in the province’s north. The two new RPTs will be connected with psychiatrists, specifically addressing mental health issues.
“Our experience has been that there’s comfort with it,” Dr. Tanya Holt said when asked about the RPTs being impersonal.
“Children like it. I have a photo of one of the kids in our study that we followed several times, in fact hugging the robot.”
According to Holt, the alternative is missing the opportunity to speak to a specialist or waiting days to see one in Saskatoon or Regina after a lengthy commute.
“We need to be innovative in the way we overcome the barriers of distance and time,” Holt said.
According to Dr. Mendez, Saskatchewan is paving the way with RPTs and is the first province to use them specifically to address mental health issues in northern communities.