FDA Clears Telemedicine Robot for Use in Hospitals

Larry Hand

February 01, 2013

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared a remote presence (RP) robot, RP-VITA (iRobot), for use in hospitals, according to an announcement from the manufacturer. The robot, which will be marketed by the telemedicine company InTouch Health, allows physicians to monitor patients remotely.

The FDA clearance is the first for an autonomous-navigation RP robot in healthcare practice, although such "auto-drive" technology is already in use in the defense and public safety sectors. iRobot also makes the robotic household vacuum, Roomba.

"The robot combines the latest in autonomous navigation and mobility technologies developed by iRobot with state-of-the-art telemedicine and electronic health record integration developed by InTouch Health," iRobot stated in a news release.

The FDA cleared the robot for use before, during, and after surgery and for cardiovascular, neurological, prenatal, psychological, critical care, and examination uses. The robot allows for real-time audio and video communication between patients and hospital attendants and a remote physician.

In addition to allowing a physician to control the robot remotely from a computer, the robot has the ability to map its own environment for future reference and sense objects in its path and move around without interfering in a busy hospital setting, according to the news release.

"FDA clearance of a robot that can move safely and independently through a fast-paced, chaotic and demanding hospital environment is a significant technological milestone for the robotics and healthcare industries," Colin Angle, chairman and chief executive officer of iRobot, says in the release.

Yulun Wang, chairman and chief executive officer of InTouch Health, adds: "RP-VITA has undergone stringent testing, and we are confident that the robot's ease of use and unique set of capabilities will enable new clinical applications and uses."

The robot contains combinations of display types, microphones, cameras, and speakers, which can vary according to specific uses, according to documentation filed with the FDA. Accessories also are available, including an approved integrated electronic stethoscope.

A physician can operate the robot from a remote position using a joystick or mouse connected to a desktop or laptop computer over a wired or wireless Internet connection.

The FDA's approval came in a November 20 notification, according to the documentation.