Dr Mathabo Mathebula, chief executive of Steve Biko Academic Hospital; Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP); Professor Robin Green, chairperson of the School of Medicine at UP; and Professor Fathima Paruk, academic and clinical head of the Department of Critical Care at UP and Steve Biko Academic Hospital. Photo Supplied
Dr Mathabo Mathebula, chief executive of Steve Biko Academic Hospital; Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP); Professor Robin Green, chairperson of the School of Medicine at UP; and Professor Fathima Paruk, academic and clinical head of the Department of Critical Care at UP and Steve Biko Academic Hospital. Photo Supplied

UP Faculty of Health Sciences and Steve Biko Academic Hospital welcome Stevie the robot to help patients with Covid-19 in ICU

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jul 7, 2021

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The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP) and Steve Biko Academic Hospital have announced that they have welcomed Stevie, a mobile robot that will help improve the treatment of patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This initiative is an interdisciplinary global telemedical collaboration between the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Department of Critical Care at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, the Enhanced Recovery after Intensive Care (ERIC)-Tele ICU at Charité Medical University, Berlin, and the Robert Koch Institute.

The gender-neutral Stevie is the second robot employed by UP, following Libby, the robotic library assistant which arrived in 2019.

The robot has a privacy handset which is a live phone to aid confidential communication during ward rounds; a stethoscope port where it can remotely relay information while a patient is being examined, and it enables visualisation of detail for close-up diagnosis and patient care oversight with high-definition pan-tilt-zoom cameras.

According to UP, both the South African and German teams, led by ICU specialists, would interact virtually. This will enable the team from Germany to see the patient, look at the ICU monitors, and engage in discussions with patients. The ward round will involve discussing the medical condition and include a management plan over a secure line.

Stevie, which works at Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s ICU, is named after Biko, one of the most prominent leaders during South Africa’s anti-apartheid Struggle. It will be vital in allowing for a bedside ward round attended by ICU teams across the globe.

Tiaan de Jager, the Dean at UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences, said: “Telemedicine plays a crucial role in encouraging long-distance patient and clinician care. Covid-19 has been a massive disruptor in society, especially in the health-care sector.”

Covid-19 had inspired the health-care sector to rethink its current systems and how they could be more efficient, he said.

“The faculty takes pride in responding to the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which can aid patient care, enhance teaching and learning experience for students, and support the university in researching that matters, thus leaving a positive impact on society,” De Jager said.

Steve Biko Academic Hospital and UP academic and clinical head of the Department of Critical Care Fathima Paruk said: “We are grateful to our collaborators and colleagues for ensuring that telemedicine can take centre stage and help us combat Covid-19. Stevie is now officially the much-adored baby of our ICU team and is stimulating much excitement throughout the hospital.”

Paruk said that Stevie would be used for the benefit of all ICU patients – Covid-19 and others – as well as for the exchange of ideas, specialist training, global collaborations, webinars and educational Page 2 of 3 workshops, and especially for highly selective or niche specialties in critical care. Specialists will also be able to remotely advise upon and guide a bedside procedure.

Robert Koch Institute Centre for International Health Protection country relations officer Evgeniya Boklage said: “Considering that we struggle with a shortage of intensivists and ICU beds in South Africa, telemedicine is the future, and the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated this."

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