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Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

New Chapter in Robotic Telemedicine Gives InTouch Health an Expanded Presence — Remotely

Founder Yulun Wang says partnership with GE Healthcare creates remote technical and product training opportunities around the world

Yulun Wang, InTouch Health’s founder, chairman and chief innovation officer, notes that about half of medical consultations using his company’s technology are for strokes, which require immediate attention. “I think that (telemedicine) is going to transform health-care delivery much like how online banking transformed banking,” he says. Click to view larger
Yulun Wang, InTouch Health’s founder, chairman and chief innovation officer, notes that about half of medical consultations using his company’s technology are for strokes, which require immediate attention. “I think that (telemedicine) is going to transform health-care delivery much like how online banking transformed banking,” he says. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

The latest step in the proliferation of robotics and remote consultation in the health-care industry is the expanded use of a local tech company’s “robotic telepresence” device to train physicians and technicians.

On Nov. 28, GE Healthcare and Goleta-based InTouch Health announced the commercialization phase of the latter’s remote-interfacing technology to train health professionals in the use of GE medical technology.

The new chapter in the companies’ collaboration follows a two-year pilot program through which more than 300 health-care providers around the world tried out the training method.

The use of technology to provide various forms of health care from a distance, such as remotely guided surgery or doctor/patient consultation over a computer, is known as telehealth or telemedicine.

The GE pilot program led to more effective and convenient training and equipment use than traditional in-person training alone, the two companies say.

According to InTouch, GE also examined other companies’ telehealth systems, and is now deploying 50 InTouch “remote-presence” devices to more than 200 locations worldwide.

“We want to make sure our technologists are well trained to produce the highest image quality for the patient as quickly as possible, so they can get the best treatment that meets their needs,” Tacy Bowers, an MRI technologist using the program at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, said in a statement to Noozhawk.

In a nutshell, InTouch Health’s technology “connects physicians using this combination of cloud-based networking and end points which have robotics technology in them,” said Yulun Wang, the company’s founder, chairman and chief innovation officer.

InTouch products, he told Noozhawk, are used in more than 200,000 remote-presence interactions each year in some 1,500 health-care settings throughout the world.

Roughly half of those are for strokes, he said, in which sufferers often require the immediate attention of specialists, who might not physically be in the ambulance — or anywhere near the patient if the incident occurs in a smaller community or rural area.

An InTouch monitor attached to an ambulance gurney, for instance, allows a physician to interact with a stroke patient while monitoring vital signs and providing instruction to the personnel on hand.

In addition to bringing physicians into emergency scenes, telemedicine technology allows doctors to interact with more patients than before and, by not requiring a doctor to be physically present, reduces the risk of patient infection by other bodies.

The goal, Wang said, is to be able to “consistently deliver higher quality care to anyone anywhere, and do it at a lower cost.”

“I think that (telemedicine) is going to transform health-care delivery much like how online banking transformed banking,” he said.

Wang, who received his electrical engineering Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara, also founded Computer Motion, a Goleta-based robotics company that developed the surgical robot used in 2001’s so-called Lindbergh operation — the first complete remote-surgery operation in which surgeons in New York removed a patient’s gall bladder in Strasbourg, France.

Wang founded InTouch after Computer Motion merged with Intuitive Surgical following the Lindbergh operation.

Whereas InTouch’s software, robots and telehealth network are utilized across the health-care spectrum — from high-acuity situations like stroke victims on a gurney, to routine doctor consultations done through an iPad — telehealth competitors tend to focus only on the latter, the company says.

InTouch’s telehealth footprint, Wang said, “is going to increase more exponentially as we go because we started the company on these high-acuity things” like stroke, trauma and neonatal care.

“But we’re also moving down what’s called the care continuum into lower-acuity things,” he added. “Even though there are a lot of strokes and stuff, there are many more normal (doctor) visits.”

Hospitals around the country — Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital among them — already feature InTouch devices, including self-guiding robots that roam around to hospital rooms and emergency rooms.

Navigating with infrared, LIDAR and sonar, the robots’ cameras and screen allow doctors in another setting to view and interact with patients remotely.

Cottage Hospital, Wang said, uses InTouch’s technology to bring their expertise to surrounding medical centers.

“Very often what happens is Cottage acquires the system to place in Lompoc, to place in Sierra Vista (Regional Medical Center), to place in Twin Cities,” he said. “It builds a network.

“Cottage is the regional hub to the smaller hospitals so that (Cottage’s) expertise can be leveraged across these other geographies.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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