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Robotic Technology Shows Life-Saving Potential for Treatment of Preterm Newborns

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What Could Robots Offer when Treating Preterm Newborns in Hospitals?

Robots helping premature babies stay alive seems like a science fiction movie set in the future, but that is what is happening in the United Kingdom and other places now. The robots, called Teladocs, allow outside medical specialists to evaluate premature babies inside a medical facility. Premature babies need specialized care for their complex health problems, and neonatologists are trained to treat conditions plaguing premature infants. Nevertheless, they are sometimes unavailable. When neonatologists are in short supply or a medical center or hospital is far from medical specialists, Teledocs reduce the risk of premature babies dying for lack of immediate care.

Development and Use of Robotic Technology in Infant Medicine

Specific hospitals in the United Kingdom began testing Teladocs during the pandemic when Covid prevention was the top priority for patients and medical personnel. A similar program services 19 regional hospitals in Minnesota, supplying remote specialists to assist complicated births, and in the Washington D.C. area. However, the programs’ successes encourage prospects for a more widespread application, affording smaller and isolated hospitals resources otherwise unavailable. In 2011, researchers already confirmed neonatologists’ successful remote treatment in the NICU in a published study, so recent applications confirmed the practical use of remote infant care.

How can Robotic Technology be Used to Treat Premature Babies?

Robotic technology promises to improve the lives of premature babies and their families. Premature babies are often born with a host of medical challenges, and the earlier they are born, the more urgently their conditions require medical attention. Prematurity often causes respiratory difficulties, as underdeveloped lungs are a common issue. Since a fetus’s lungs develop late in gestational age, a premature infant often needs breathing assistance. Generally, the earlier the baby, the more help they need. A Teladoc can monitor a preemie’s vitals, including breathing, heart rate, temperature, and glucose levels, and assess their urgent needs.

When a premature baby needs emergency care, a rural hospital without a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can call in a specialist for consultation and advice through state-of-the-art medical technology. Most babies in the NICU are preterm, meaning they are born before 37 weeks gestation. In fact, nearly 500,000 babies are born prematurely annually in the U.S. Preemies typically weigh less than 5.5 pounds and need specialized care, careful monitoring, and medical devices to help them thrive. The NICU has the technology and trained professionals to care for premature babies. A premature baby must transfer to another hospital when a hospital does not have the staff or a NICU. And yet, preterm babies do better in a hospital with a NICU.

This advantage is where the robot plays a crucial role. Through the Teladoc, a neonatologist can examine and treat distressed newborns as if they were at their bedside. The robots contain the technology that doctors use in the hospital, such as stethoscopes, cameras, and screens; only these items rest on a mobile device offering multiview visibility. The movable robot can navigate through the hospital. And if a doctor needs an MRI or other scan, the Teladoc can connect with imaging technology and electronic patient records.

Recent Findings and Applications for Robots to Treat Distressed Infants

With teleneonatology, hospitals can reduce birth injuries, as well as emergency transfers to hospitals with available specialists and NICUs handling complicated birth injuries and prematurity by 30-50%. When an expert is available within minutes, hospital physicians can get the advice vital to treating very sick babies. Thus, smaller hospitals gain the medical expertise available to larger hospitals in remote caretaking and consultation via video calls while observing the patient. Further, studies show robots can provide therapeutic comfort to NICU patients by replicating calming parental heartbeat, skin, and breath.

They can also substitute as doctors for routine bedside checkups and care for simple illnesses or administer medication, as they are programmed to move from one emergency station to another autonomously. Hospital staff can also program the robot’s movements through a phone app. As an extension of a clinician’s ears, eyes, and hands, the robots not only allow virus protection during a pandemic, but supply urgent expertise where it’s needed most.

Additionally, an on-location staff member can pick up the slack where a robot’s limitations prevent a complete examination. For example, a nurse can direct the robot’s tools to the ear, skin, and blood to show the off-site doctor what is happening with the patient’s blood pressure and sensory organs. Also, the physician’s face on the screen can reassure parents who are anxious about their child’s health. A physician can even ride along in an emergency ambulance transfer with the robot or confer with other specialists appearing remotely.

What is the Significance of Hospital Robots for Preterm Infants and their Parents?

The significance for premature babies and their families is nothing short of life-changing. New parents do not have to suffer anxiety and depression when their newborn must transfer to another hospital to access needed care. The increased survival rate and lower birth injury rate due to immediate expert care cannot be overestimated. The promise for robots in the NICU is vast. Lower incidences of medication mistakes due to human error is just one preventative advantage of telehealth technology in the NICU, along with speedy and available specialized care and treatment.

Medication errors, faulty medical devices, and insufficient monitoring are just a few ways that negligence occurs in the NICU and harms preterm babies who need extremely attentive care. NICU nurses make mistakes administering medicine or monitoring premature babies on ventilators, a standard device for tiny newborns with underdeveloped lungs. Doctors may also fail to follow up with patients leaving the hospital with premature babies. It is a tragic reality that medical care negligence in fragile preterm babies often leads to permanent damage or death. When these situations occur, parents of injured children are not left without options.

Talk to one of our seasoned birth injury lawyers in New Jersey when your baby suffered a birth injury during the delivery or aftercare of premature birth. Our accomplished birth injury lawyers often encounter cases involving negligent medical care in the NICU for premature babies. We frequently handle complex medical cases involving specialized technology and care regarding prematurity and other serious medical conditions affecting newborns. With knowledge of medical investigations and their applications to legal claims for compensation in NJ, our attorneys understand the right questions to ask medical experts, the medico-legal terminology, and the industry contacts to help you get your case heard and the justice your child deserves.

Ask for a consultation at no cost with a birth injury attorney to learn what you can do to get financial compensation for your baby’s care and long-term needs. We encourage you to fill out our form or call 866-708-8617 if you would like to speak with an attorney about your baby’s case.

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