Could Robots Replace Triage Nurses in Emergency Rooms?

Researchers at Vanderbilt University are trying to develop robots that could perform the evaluative functions of triage nurses and doctors at hospital emergency rooms:

They envision robots, dubbed TriageBots, which would check patients in, gather their medical records, administer diagnostic tests and work with doctors to provide preliminary diagnoses and allocate medical attention according to need.

While people wait in the emergency room, they would sit in special "smart" chairs stocked with interactive diagnostic equipment that could relay more comprehensive data to medical personnel.

Based on the level of urgency, the triage bots could either immediately notify medical staff or give the patient an estimated wait time. Mobile robots would circulate around the waiting room to check on the status of patients awaiting care and reallocate priorities if necessary.


http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-12/triagebot-wants-you-rate-your-pain-one-10 | Photo by Flickr user snabby used under Creative Commons license

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Why do people even propose this kind of silliness? Of course, you cannot have health care without humans doing the caring. Why would you even imagine otherwise?
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This would not work as vital signs don't always tell the tale of the patient. I've been working in the ER for 8 years and one thing that I've noticed is the "sick sense" that one develops after working triage. Someone can come in and, after a number of years of experience, you just "know" that they are sick.

I know, this is a bit of an intangible. I would challenge you, though, to find an experienced nurse and just ask them about this. I don't care about vital signs, look at the patient. That's something that this machine doesn't do. I've seen a lot of heart attack patients with normal vitals. If the robot is going to rush back patients because pain is a 10 on a 10 scale, you're going to have an ER full of drug seekers, especially once people figure out the trigger.
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Yeah, I mean, who wouldn't rather have a machine greet you when you're in distress, rather than a silly human being who might be able to reassure and comfort you? You may be able to automate certain tasks in a situation like this, but you can't program a robot to have a good bedside manner or genuine human emotions.
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