"Beam me up, Scotty," the famous Star Trek phrase might not be the exact words physicians will say but with the help of telepresence robots, they can do virtual consults and rounds to serve patients in other hospitals and rural communities needing their medical expertise.

The remote presence robots are equipped with a screen that broadcasts the face of the doctor and also sports microphones, cameras, and speakers to facilitate communication between medical specialists and patients. Using a computer or a tablet, doctors will be able to log-in into an online platform that will connect them to the 5-foot roving robot. The telepresence device will be able to navigate to a patient's room utilizing several sensors.

While the doctor will not be able to physically touch the patient, a medical assistant or nurse will be available to assist. The physicians can also access the patient's medical information when needed.

Healthcare providers in different cities in the United States such as California, Nevada, and Arizona are starting to use the video-conferencing robots.

"Regardless of where the patient is located, we can be at their bedside in several minutes. Literally, we compress time and space with this technology. No longer does distance affect a person's ability to access the best care possible," said Dr. Alan Shatzel of the Mercy Telehealth Network in an interview.

Dignity Health based in San Francisco, fielded telepresence robots to 20 hospitals in California so they can tap experts in fields such as neurology, pediatrics, cardiology, and neonatology.

One of the robots used by Dignity Health is the FDA-approved RP-VITA made by InTouch Health and iRobot Corporation. InTouch Health serves about 1,000 hospitals in the United States renting out telemedicine devices such as the RP-Vita for $5,000 a month.

"Hospitals are now using this type of technology in order to leverage the specialists that they have even better and more efficiently," said InTouch Health chief executive Dr. Yulun Wang.

Stroke expert Dr. Asad Chaudhary of Dignity Health did a virtual consult for a patient confined in the neuro-ICU of Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, California.

"It's just like being with the patient in the room. Of course, nothing can replace seeing these patients in person, but it's the next best thing," Chaudhary shared his experience of using the telepresence robots.

With the remote presence robots, the doctor is always in.

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