Introducing LifeBot

Trinity Health will have secured a significant spot on the technology map by the end of this week with their introduction of a receiving unit known as a LifeBot in their emergency trauma center. Trinity Health is the first rural healthcare provider in the country to pilot this system that will inevitably redefine the new area of telemedicine.

Tuesday afternoon, a LifeBot receiving unit was installed at Trinity Health by Roger Heath, creator of LifeBot, and his team. It should be in full operation by the end of this week. Not only will the ambulances in Minot be outfitted with LifeBot units, but the New Town ambulance will be outfitted with one as well.

The LifeBot receiving unit is somewhat similar to Mission Control operated by NASA, except it’s for emergency care instead of for space exploration. LifeBot gives physicians at Trinity the ability to perform long-distance triage through two-way audiovisual communication, along with direct transmission of a patient’s vital signs, ultrasound and other images. Barcode scanning of a patient’s driver’s license is also used with LifeBot to bring up demographic and patient record information.

Dr. Jeffrey Sather, M.D., FACEP, Chairman of the Department of Medicine and Medical Director of the Emergency Trauma Center at Trinity Health, said the goal of using the LifeBot project will explore the health benefits to patients being transported. Another goal, he added, will be to investigate the potential for cost savings as a result of not having to transport select patients who can be treated at the scene.

Training for the LifeBot receiving unit will be a continuous process, Heath said. There will be a phase-in of the features and specific things will be added as they go, he said. Physicians from Trinity and New Town will be trained in using the unit. The initial training will be technical on how to see and care for the patient from the ambulance, Sather noted, as well as learning how to treat the patient without actually having the patient in front of them. “I see us training paramedics on how to use this. It’s beyond what we’ve done before,” he added. All of the information that the paramedic would see is conveyed on the screen seen by the physician back in the emergency room, Heath also noted.

As an example, Sather said there could be a person calling from their home who is experiencing nausea or vomiting, and the physician can use this LifeBot system and the person might not have to leave their home. It saves in ambulance transport and emergency room care, he said.

The initial cost of the LifeBot receiving unit could possibly be a challenge, Heath said, but felt it will become less of a problem soon since there is so much cost-saving in telemedicine. Technology and training are being streamlined, he added. LifeBot receiving units can be shipped out in bulk and immediately and can be anywhere a physician is needed, Heath said.

“It’s a robot to keep you alive,” he remarked. “I envision this tool to help accelerate quality of care.”

Sather said Trinity has about $50,000 invested for each ambulance to have a LifeBot unit. The unit can save many miles on the vehicle if they don’t have to transport the patient, he noted, which saves time for everyone and cost for vehicle maintenance.

Heath invented the LifeBot a few years ago. The federal government invested about $36 million into the project because it was needed for the battlefield, he noted. The LifeBot unit operates on multiple modems with multiple carriers so it will never lose signal, Heath said, and it’s so automated that the physician can fully focus on the patient.

When thinking up the idea for the LifeBot, Heath said he thought about what he would want if he was in the situation of falling ill in his house and not able to help himself. He thought of the idea of a robot keeping someone alive, he added. The next step for LifeBot will be to take the system into smaller mobile devices, like smartphones, Heath continued. As an aside, Heath is also credited as one of the inventors of the automated external defibrillator.

Before the arrival of the LifeBot unit, the primary problem with telemedicine was that it gave a picture but didn’t give a picture of the patient’s insides, Heath said. It’s an important differentiation, he noted, because a person can look perfectly fine on the outside, but have a major problem internally. The LifeBot system gives all of the internal information, Heath added.

The LifeBot unit will vastly improve the time a person spends in the emergency room and the care they’ll receive while there. It will be an accelerator of care because there will be enough information provided for adequate care, Heath said. The LifeBot might also alter where a patient goes and determine which surgeon is needed, he said. “They (the staff) will know what’s coming in the door before (the patient) gets there.”

While Trinity Health is the first to receive the LifeBot system, other places have been asking for it, Heath noted. The University of California-Davis has asked for it and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has set aside money for the system, he said. Additionally, physicians in Saudi Arabia have also asked for it, thinking it would be useful to have during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Heath added. “It’s a process,” he noted, of getting the system. “It doesn’t happen in a day. It takes a lot of patience and persistence, but doesn’t get much more exciting.”