Local university finding ways to use robots in the doctor's office

Robots are taking over doctors offices at Pacific Northwest University.

YAKIMA, Wash.- The robots are here and they're trying to figure out what's wrong with you.

It may seem strange telling your symptoms to a computer screen on wheels, but simulation director Lisa Munoz at Pacific Northwest University said the use of tele-simulation robots is increasing when it comes to medicine.

“Our healthcare needs have become huge in America, so finding ways to be able to address those needs are key and tele-simulation is one more avenue we can explore to find out what are the opportunities we can truly achieve,” she said.

Thomas Greenwood is a third-year student, who is currently on his clinical rotation in Oregon and participating in the study.

They're trying to find out what people's attitudes are when meeting with a doctor on a screen compared to in-person.

Greenwood said they also want to see where the robots can fit in and make your experience better.

“We rely so much on medicine in this country for so many things and it's such a big industry but technologically we are actually really behind when it comes to the rest of the world is,” he said.

The university got a $10,000 grant to buy the five robots, all with their own famous names like R2D2 or C3PO.

They can move around the office on their own and have everything needed to interact with a patient.

However, this brings up the question everyone has...

"How do you do a physical exam? Well that's the hard part," Munoz said.

She said she sees this as a way this as a way to compliment, rather than replace doctor visits.

Imagine it's in the middle of the night and you need help from a specialist that is hours away.

Munoz said this happens often in rural areas, like some places in Yakima County and it's a way to get people the help they need right away.

“We can call and reach out to a specialist and have them in the room with a presence instead of just a phone call,” she said.

PNWU has a five-state reach when it comes to their students and faculty, so the use of the robots helps connect everyone in a more intimate way.

Greenwood said people usually tend to be stand-offish when they first meet someone on the screen.

But he said people usually calm down after 10-15 minutes of interaction and it's no longer a problem the second time they meet with the provider.

“In face-to-face interactions, we rely so much on body language, especially facial expressions and this sort of brings that back into the room with the patient because so much is lost over the phone or via email,” Greenwood said.

While the university might be taking the first steps in the area; don't be surprised if your doctor is on a screen next time you meet with them.

“It's already become more of the norm if we think back prior to video technology,” Munoz said.

They plan to have their study done by the end of spring and hope to have their results put together by summer.

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