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Introducing “Dr. Roboto”

June 17, 2015

“Dr. Roboto” as he has been named by the staff, is part of a new program allowing patients and nursing staff access to physicians remotely 24-hours a day. The service is called telemedicine and is being provided at SCKMC through a partnership with Eagle Telemedicine, based out of Atlanta, Georgia.

Arkansas City, KS - South Central Kansas Medical Center’s newest staff member arrived earlier this week. However, instead of the usual background checks and human resources paperwork, this clinician required assembly and programming.

“Dr. Roboto” as he has been named by the staff, is part of a new program allowing patients and nursing staff access to physicians remotely 24-hours a day. The service is called telemedicine and is being provided at SCKMC through a partnership with Eagle Telemedicine, based out of Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Brian Hunt who is originally from Ark City, is a hospitalist, a hospital based physician, caring for inpatients in Lawrence, KS. In addition Dr. Hunt provides telehospitalist services to hospitals on the East and West Coasts as well as Kansas through Eagle Telemedicine. He, along with Dr. Marc Scarbrough and Dr. Jason Kimball, will be the physicians providing care through Dr. Roboto beginning this August at the medical center.

“The doctors that you are dealing with, we are all internal medicine doctors with tons of experience. And we’re nice people,” Dr. Hunt joked. “I’ve been a tele-hospitalist now going on two and a half years, and I love every bit of it.”

However, Hunt himself was skeptical when he first heard of the idea of using a robot to care for hospitalized patients.

“I do not like technology. I find it confusing. I find it frustrating because it doesn’t go as fast as I would like it to go. But I have found (technology) can be amazing in what it can do and how it can help take care of folks,” Dr. Hunt said. “I believe in rural Kansas. I believe that folks that live in an Ark City, or any part of the State besides Kansas City, Wichita, Salina, or Hays, deserve the same quality care and intensity of care as anybody else, anywhere else. I believe telemedicine can play a role in that. It’s not the whole answer, but if I can help out with that it just makes my day.”

SCKMC Chief Executive Officer, Virgil Watson, agrees with Dr. Hunt that telehospitalist services can improve patient care, but believes the program will also improve job satisfaction with hospital staff. 

“(Telehospitalists) hopefully will give every patient that comes into out hospital instant access to a physician to help extend their primary care physicians care that is already being rendered,” Watson said. “Our nurses will have immediate access to the physician. Hopefully, that will cut down on turnover and stress for them, especially during the middle of the night, giving (the nursing staff) the extra access to doctors that they need in order to take care of patients more efficiently.”

In addition to enhanced patient and staff satisfaction, Watson sees Dr. Roboto as a way to improve the local physicians’ quality of life while at the same time making Ark City more attractive to new doctors.

“Everybody I talk to says that this is the future. The new graduating physician does not want to do hospital care. If this works we will have a little bit of an edge over everybody else when it comes to recruiting new docs,” Watson said. “Really what we are hoping for out of this whole process is to relieve some of the pressure off of our existing medical staff, giving them the ability to sleep all night, see more patients (at their clinics) during the day, and be a lot more patient oriented, not overwhelmed and exhausted from the previous night’s duties and responsibilities.”

The telehospitalist program is a significant investment for South Central Kansas Medical Center costing roughly $326,000 the first year. Watson believes the benefits provided, as well as statistical averages from other facilities offering similar services, justify the expense.

“The data says it should increase our patients by 18% as far as census is concerned. Now whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. If it does, we would end up with about 142 more patients. If you do the calculations, the program pays for itself,” Watson said.

An open house is currently being planned at the medical center for July 30th to allow the public to meet Dr. Hunt, and see Dr. Roboto first hand.

Pictured: South Central Kansas Medical Center Medical Surgical Unit Manager, Tracy Austin, demonstrates to CEO Virgil Watson a few of the features available on a telehospitalist robot, soon to be used at the hospital.