The doctor is in . . . sort of

Doctor does the rounds at a New Jersey hospital using a flat-screen robot

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Doug Krizner: Robots have come a long way since we first put them to work on assembly lines. Health care is one of the biggest job markets for them.

Robotic nurses may seem like something out of the Jetsons, with flat-screen monitors for heads. But robots are saving hospitals money, and speeding patient recovery. Shia Levitt reports from Baltimore.


Shia Levitt: The grey robot is about as tall as a person, but looks more like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a TV. It unplugs itself from a charging station and makes its way toward a patient's room as soon as someone commands it remotely.

Doctor Alex Gandsas is at the joystick. A giant picture of his face fills the screen as the robot buzzes down the hallway of Sinai Hospital's Bariatric surgery department. And when it drops in on a patient, it's Gandsas's voice you hear.

Dr. Alex Gandsas / Robot: Hello?

James Dyett: Hello, how are you..

Gandsas: How you doing?

Dyett: I'm all better.

Gansas: OK, so the pain got better?

Through the robot, the Gandsas asks James Dyett to do his lung exercises:

Gandsas: You know, it's better for you if you sit up. Excellent. Ready? Little higher, yeah. Very good, very very good. How's your pain level?

He zooms in a tiny camera to see Dyett blow into a plastic device that measures the strength of his breath. On the way out, he gives Dyett more instructions.

Gandsas: OK, make sure you walk around, all right? That will make you feel better.

Doctors can remotely monitor patients many times a day this way so they can recover and go home faster. This frees up beds for new patients. All that amounts to about $350,000 in saved costs and extra revenue in just six months.

Dyett says talking to his doctor through a robot was weird at first:

Dyett: It's almost like a real person was standing inside of it. After awhile, you forgot that it was a machine, you was actually looking at him and looking in his eyes. You really thought that he was here.

It was a new experience for Gandsas, too:

Gandsas: You can actually project yourself, next to the patient, regardless of where you are geographically.

More than 100 robots are now at work in hospitals across the country. Gandsas's main gripe is his robot doesn't have arms, so it needs human help for hands-on examinations or to call the elevator.

In Baltimore, I'm Shia Levitt for Marketplace.

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