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Children's health

25th Nov 2021

Could “robots” be the answer to saving premature babies? Leading doctors think so

Laura Grainger

The power of modern technology.

Hospital bots could be the answer to saving countless premature babies by allowing consultants to treat them remotely, leading doctors in the UK say.

Telemedicine “robots” can allow specialists to make bedside video calls offering their expertise to medical teams treating sick children at smaller hospitals.

This would massively improve the survival chances of babies born extremely preterm in hospitals that don’t have such specialists in-house, according to neonatal experts.

The new technology was trialled during the pandemic at the Liverpool Women’s and Alder Hey Children’s hospitals when their teams were down 14 consultants due to Covid-related shielding and isolation.

Now the head of the hospitals’ neonatal unit has spoken of its life-saving potential, revealing the Teladoc device “kept us going” throughout the shortage.

Dr Chris Dewhurst, the clinical director of the Liverpool Neonatal Partnership, told the Guardian: “This definitely has the potential to save the lives of extremely preterm infants who were born outside of specialist centres, and improve their outcomes.

“What we’ve demonstrated is that it’s easy to use, it improves the quality of care for babies and their families, improves the speed of review, and it is very close to being there in person.”

The device sits on a mobile frame and has cameras, a screen, a stethoscope and the ability to link to MRI scanners and thermal-imaging cameras.

It also allows out-of-house consultants watching from another hospital to view a patients’ medical records on demand.

“For babies who are extremely preterm, and have not been able to move into an NICU, then they’re not going to be looked after by people with the specialist skills. And we know that those babies have worse outcomes,” Dr Dewhurst continued.

“We now need to find the funding so that babies who were born in other hospitals who need immediate intervention can have an neonatologist there immediately, within minutes, rather than them not being there at all, because they’re 40 to 50 miles away.”