Robots employed on Italian hospital wards dealing with coronavirus.
As Italy struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, hospital wards have turned to robots to help control the outbreak.
At the Ospedale di Circolo in Varese, Italy staff use a ‘Ivo’ as a means of communicating with patients. The robot is little more than a tablet supported by a periscopic pole mounted on wheels, but it allows nurses to talk to patients remotely and limit their exposure to the virus.
Elsewhere at the hospital, full robot nurses have been employed to help manage the demand. One of them is named ‘Tommy’ after the son of one of the doctors. Tommy is one of six deployed on the ward that monitors parameters from equipment in the room, relaying them to hospital staff.
The robots have touch-screen faces that allow patients to record messages and send them to doctors.
‘It’s like having another nurse without problems related to infection,’ said Doctor Francesco Dentali, director of intensive care at the hospital.
It takes a while for patients to realize that, given the enormity of the task of combating coronavirus and the toll it is taking on overworked medical staff, robots may be just what the doctor ordered.
‘You have to explain to the patient the aim and function of the robot,’ Dentali said.
‘The first reaction is not positive, especially for old patients. But if you explain your aim, the patient is happy because he or she can speak with the doctor,’ he said.
The robots also help the hospital limit the number of protective masks and gowns staff have to use.
‘These days, they are a scarce resource,’ said Doctor Gianni Bonelli, the hospital’s director.
The shortage of masks has been one of the biggest problems dogging the national health system since the contagion surfaced at the end of February.
The national commissioner for the emergency has said it will take Italy at least two months to become self-sufficient in producing protective masks.
Tommy and his fellow robot nurses have one more advantage – they are not subject to exhaustion. A quick charge of batteries and they are back at work in the ward.