Our patients’ stories: using medical robots at home

When you hear the word robot, which image comes to mind first?

Those of us raised on Star Wars and Buck Rogers are likely to identify with the first image, but physically speaking, the robots of today have more in common with your computer and microwave than a Hollywood android.

They may look less interesting than your favorite sci-fi film characters, but modern medical robots are still quite helpful. So much so that the Boston Globe recently ran a story about a pilot project that placed a medical robot created by VGo Communications in the home of the Tally family, whose 2 year-old son Aidan is recovering from surgery he received at Children’s Hospital Boston last month to treat his urinary reflux .

The VGo robot’s main function is videoconferencing, which connects the Ashland-based family to their doctors and nurses here in Boston. Operated by remote control from Children’s, the VGo robot lets medical professionals see and communicate with Aidan’s parents, take video and close-up photos of Aidan’s scars for medical review and figure out if the prescribed medication is doing its job.

And because videoconferencing appointments are easier to coordinate than hospital visits, the Tally family was able to check in with Aidan’s care team every three days, instead of waiting for their first post surgical appointment, scheduled for six weeks after his surgery.

Erin and Aidan

“As a parent, you want the best and most comprehensive care possible for your child and being able to communicate with an expert from home was very comforting,” says Aidan’s mother Erin.  “Whenever a question about Aidan’s care came up, we were able to write it down and ask it at our next scheduled VGo appointment.”

The robot didn’t just provide the Tally family with peace of mind, but saved them time and money as well.

“Our VGo visits at home took about 10 to 15 minutes, whereas if I had to drive into Boston it would have taken at least one and half to two hours depending on traffic,” she says. “With the robot my scheduled visits were always right on time, which eliminated the time spent in the waiting room as well. Plus, having VGo visits from my home was cost-effective because I didn’t have to pay for gas, parking or tolls.”

Both Erin and Aidan were skeptical of the  4-foot-6, 17-pound, two-wheeled robot at first—it looks more like a futuristic, high-tech scale on wheels than medical equipment— but after just a few minutes Erin says she was sold on the technology.

“The first time we used the robot we spoke with a nurse. We experienced some minor technical difficulties but were still able to communicate, which was really great because my husband and I made a list of questions we had regarding Aidan’s recovery,” she says. “As a result of our VGO interaction, we were able to manage Aidan’s medications more effectively as well as receive confirmation that Aidan’s recovery was on track.”

The Tally family has completed their two week robotics trial and based on the experience Erin feels that placing medical robots in private homes could benefit any number of people, like those whose have difficulty getting around, the elderly or people who live in areas where quality medical care is too far to access.

Even young Aidan, who at first was very wary of being placed in front of the VGo robot, has come around.

“We had to hide the robot when we came home from the hospital because he didn’t like it. Then during our sessions with the nurses and doctor he didn’t pay too much attention to it,” Erin says. “But when we returned the robot this past Tuesday Aidan was looking all over for it. All of the sudden he’s asking, “Where did the robot go?”

If you have a child struggling with  urinary reflux , contact our experts in the Vesicoureteral Reflux (VUR) Program for an appointment.


By the way, Children’s also recently starting using robots to help our food services team transport food throughout the hospital, and we need your help to name them! Submit a name or vote on other suggestions in our Robot Naming Contest.

One thought on “Our patients’ stories: using medical robots at home

Comments are closed.