A California family is outraged that a doctor told their elderly relative that his lungs were failing that that he was going to die imminently — via a telepresence robot.
“You might not make it home,” the doctor at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center told the patient, according to local television channel KTVU, which broke the story.
The patient, Ernest Quintana, died two days after arriving at the hospital, according to the Chicago Tribune — but the impersonal manner in which his doctor delivered the news to him and his family illustrate the strange ways that medicine is changing as technology and automation make their way into the hospital system.
Do No Harm
Quintana’s granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm, was there when the telepresence robot arrived. She was alarmed by the lack of a personal touch.
“I was going to lose my grandfather,” she told KTVU. “We knew that this was coming and that he was very sick. But I don’t think somebody should get the news delivered that way. It should have been a human being come in.”
Kaiser Permanente, for its part, assumed some responsibility for the incident in a statement. But it fell short of saying more about when, and under what circumstances, its doctors use telepresence robots to provide care for patients.
“Our health care staff receive extensive training in the use of telemedicine, but video technology is not used as a replacement for in-person evaluations and conversations with patients,” reads the statement, which was published in full by KTVU. “This is a highly unusual circumstance. We regret falling short in meeting the patient’s and family’s expectations in this situation and we will use this as an opportunity to review our practices and standards with the care team.”
More on robot medicine: Your Future Doctor May Not be Human. This Is the Rise of AI in Medicine.