Monday, December 12, 2011

I didn't mean it, HAL.

HAL:  Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over. 

I remain impressed with the tendency of the health care industry and those new ventures who hope to sell to that industry to invent high-tech, high-cost approaches to problems that can be solved for much less money.  Take this new robot described in a Boston Globe article by Jay Fitzgerald.  Here's the lede:

When Erin Tally took Aidan, her 2-year-old son, home from Children’s Hospital Boston on the day after his urinary surgery, she brought along a new friend: a 4-foot-6, 17-pound, two-wheeled robot that would help deliver care to her recovering child.

Over about two weeks that included five video consultations, the robot, made by Vgo Communications Inc., of Nashua, eliminated the need for Tally to drive Aidan into Boston every three days for post-surgical checkups.

Aidan Tally played with a robot that helps doctors at Children’s Hospital Boston monitor his post-surgical recovery.
Photo by Bill Greene, Boston Globe Staff
With cameras, advanced audio gear, and a video screen on its “face,’’ the robot allowed Aidan and his parents to talk with nurses and doctors in Boston. They could see and communicate with Aidan and his parents, take close-up photos of his surgical scars for doctors to review, and help determine what type of medications he needed.

Let's acknowledge that it would be inconvenient for a parent to drive the child in for follow-up appointments and could be a discomfort to the child.  Is there another, less-expensive way to use technology to "see and communicate with Aidan and his parents, take close-up photos of his surgical scars for doctors to review, and help determine what type of medications he needed?"

I think so. The devices that could be used include a telephone, email or secure patient site, Skype or FaceTime, a camera, and/or an iPhone or other like device. Why spend $6,000 on a robot and more money for 4G service when the elements of a solution already exist?  And please don't tell me that the answer is HIPAA.

Uh oh, have I now annoyed the robot???

** Headline source -- 2001, A Space Odyssey:

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave Bowman: What's the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.
HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.
Dave Bowman[feigning ingorance]: Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?
HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
Dave Bowman: All right, HAL. I'll go in through the emergency airlock.
HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult.
Dave Bowman: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!
HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.


Kishore Visvanathan said...

Technology for the sake of technology. Would be more impressed if they had a reliable system for using the accessible tech you mentioned. But, that doesn't rate a mention in the media.

Paul Levy said...


Anonymous said...

I suspect that knowing the funding sources and their politics would explain a lot.

Telepresence has a lot of potential in many areas, so this may actually become a cost-effective and reasonable approach if telepresence becomes widespread.

Besides, robots have kami :-)

Unknown said...

I would be interested to know what team of folks developed this technology. Doc's whose charter it is to help people, or engineer's whose charter it is to create new technology.

Speaking as the latter, we engineers at times develop great hammers, yet find ourselves often looking for a good nail to pound ... and problem to solve.

To me the Doc's should be developing the use cases, and engineers finding ways to solve them.

If I had to guess, this one was the other way round ... unlike HAL which had (has?) great bone fides.