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Picture: Screenshot

How Quintin the robot helps bring Covid-19 patients and their loved ones together

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published Oct 21, 2020

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Cape Town - Quintin the robot is now on a mission to put concerned family members in touch with ICU patients that have had to be isolated.

The robot has been assisting physicians at Tygerberg Hospital’s Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU).

Quintin, a Double Robotics robot that looks like a computer tablet on wheels, has been equipped to do video and voice calls using WhatsApp or regular phone calls. Now, family members can dial in to “visit” with patients in the Covid-19 ICU.

Quintin can be remotely steered using an app, so the hospital staff don’t have to physically enter the ward. This reduces risk of infection and saves on personal protective equipment (PPE).

Enabling contact between patients and their families has been a “humanising process”, explains Dr Kerry Louw, a psychiatrist at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) and Tygerberg Hospital.

ICU patients suffer psychologically because they are isolated from their families. In addition to that, they are sleep-deprived due to the constant beeping of machines, and experience no natural light or air movement. “Some patients stay in an ICU for long periods of time, and it becomes really difficult for them,” Louw explains.

“It’s heart-warming to see the smiles once patients have connected with their families. It has made such a difference.

“In some cases, the patients have not been awake while the family communicates with them, but it has still been meaningful. We have been able to organise some end-of-life conversations for people to say goodbye. One family wanted to be present at the moment of passing and we enabled them to be there with the patient.”

When Quintin is called upon to assist, he moves over to the patient and sometimes stays with them for hours while the family visits virtually.

“I always explain to the families beforehand what to expect and what it looks like to see someone who is intubated, as it can be a shock. Some families don’t want visual contact and prefer audio contact. We always check in with the patient to see how they are doing after engaging with their families. We also check in with the families, who can be very emotional after they’ve connected with the patient.”

The idea of using Quintin this way came about when the importance of psychological support was put in the spotlight.

“It is difficult for healthcare workers to provide psychological support through a mask and goggles, because you look like an alien and it is difficult to hear what people are saying,” said Prof Coenie Koegelenberg, an FMHS pulmonologist who also works in Tygerberg Hospital’s Covid-19 ICU.

Koegelenberg originally sourced Quintin’s services to enable ICU specialists to do virtual Covid-19 ward rounds when they are unable to be physically present.

“The odds of at least one of us falling ill or having to go into self-isolation and being unable to physically go to work were quite high, so it was reassuring to know that we would be able to function remotely by using a phone or a laptop to steer the robot,” Koegelenberg said.


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