Patients Accept Robotic Triage Care, As Satisfactory As In-Person Interaction with Clinician

The general public appears to be interested in and satisfied with using robotic systems for healthcare tasks.

A mobile robotic system is acceptable and satisfactory for use in a broad set of healthcare tasks, according to survey respondents across the U.S.

Use of the system enabled the facilitation of contactless triage interviews of patients in the emergency department and was accepted among participants. Further, patients in the emergency department rated the quality of their interaction with the mobile robotic system to be equivalent with an in-person interaction with a clinician.

The results of the study indicated interest among the general public in regard to accepting the use of robotic systems for patient interactions in the hospital.

Peter Chai, M.D., M.M.S., and colleagues assessed the accessibility and feasibility of using a mobile robotic system to facilitate healthcare tasks. The study included two parts, a national survey to examine the acceptability of using robotic systems to perform healthcare tasks in a hospital setting and a single-site cohort study of patient experiences and satisfaction with the use of a mobile robotic system to facilitate triage and telehealth tasks in the emergency department.

The team partnered with a global market research and data analytics service to conduct the national survey. The survey questionnaire was developed based on the Negative Attitudes Toward Robots Scale, which evaluated attitudes toward robotic systems. Responses were measured using a five-point Likert scale. There were also questions developed regarding respondents’ perceptions of the usefulness of robotic systems to facilitate specific healthcare tasks, including facilitating a telehealth interview, acquiring contactless vital signs, obtaining a nasal or oral swab, placing an intravenous catheter, performing phlebotomy, and turning a patient in bed.

Chai and the investigators conducted the single-site cohort study from April to August 2020 in the emergency department of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They used an agile quadruped robotic system to perform contactless triage interviews.

The team enrolled adults presenting to the emergency department who were triaged in the novel tent space or the standard emergency department waiting room or who directly received a room in the emergency department. Potential participants were told the study procedures and then asked questions about such procedures to ensure their understanding. Participants were then exposed to the robotic teletriage system which was controlled by a trained emergency medical professional. The clinician brought the robot to the participant’s location and conducted a triage interview through the integrated video link on the tablet computer attached to it. Following the encounter, patients completed an assessment based on the Telehealth Usability Questionnaire which measured how satisfied or dissatisfied they were with the robotic system.

The robotic system was a four-legged robot with a secure communication relay to a tablet controller. The robot had a tablet computer attached which ran a real-time person-to-person video link that allowed the investigators to conduct telehealth interviews in the emergency department.

There were 1,154 participants who completed all acceptability questions of the national survey. After sample matching was conducted, a nationally representative sample of 1,000 participants was included in the team’s analysis.

For usefulness of the robotic system to perform specific healthcare tasks, the response of “somewhat useful” was selected by 37.3% for facilitating telehealth interviews, 35% for acquiring vital signs, 30.7% for obtaining oral or nasal swabs, 22.8% for placing an intravenous catheter, 24.9% for performing phlebotomy, and 37.1% for turning a patient in bed. “Extremely useful” was selected by 28.7% for facilitating telehealth interviews, 41.3% for acquiring vital signs, 19.2% for obtaining oral or nasal swabs, 15.9% for placing an intravenous catheter, 16.7% for performing phlebotomy, and 37.1% for turning a patient in bed. The team noted in the context of COVID-19, usefulness increased for obtaining oral and nasal swabs, placing an intravenous catheter, and performing phlebotomy.

There were 41 participants enrolled in the emergency department cohort study and 40 were included in the analysis. Among the patients, 92.5% reported the mobile robotic system-facilitated triage interview interaction was satisfactory and 82.5% said their experience receiving the interview by the robotic system was as satisfactory as receiving an in-person interview from a clinician.

The study, “Assessment of the Acceptability and Feasibility of Using Mobile Robotic Systems for Patient Evaluation,” was published online in JAMA Network Open.