Robots to aid high dependency care at Daisy Hill Hospital
A Northern Ireland Health Trust is the first in the UK to use a robot which allows intensive care specialists from one hospital to remotely assess patients in another.
The 'telepresence' robot enables doctors to examine and interact with patients in different locations.
It will be used at Daisy Hill Hospital in County Down.
Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots said the new technology would create an "effective hospital network".
The robot has the ability to transmit heart and breath sounds and it is hoped it will prevent the need to transfer patients to intensive care in some cases.
It enables Dr Charles McAllister, based at Craigavon Area Hospital in County Armagh, to speak to staff and patients at a bedside in the Southern Trust in Newry more than 20 miles away.
"It means that although there are no intensivists on site in Daisy Hill Hospital, it means there will be 24/7 access to the intensivists on the Craigavon site to give advice and support on any patients in a high dependency unit or throughout the hospital," he said.
"You can get a huge amount of information via the robot.
"You can get real time information from the monitor, you can see the patient up close in high definition and look at all the charts and observations.
"There is also a facility for listening to the patient's lungs and heart through a stethoscope at the back of the robot."
Dr McAllister said patients had reacted more enthusiastically to the robot than he had anticipated.
Dr Shane Moan, a consultant at Daisy Hill, said he had reservations when he first heard it would be used to aid medical care.
"Having seen it in action, it's of real benefit to the care of patients. To have an intensivist (an intensive care specialist) virtually at the bedside is a real bonus in terms of patient care."
"It is not far off having a real doctor at the bedside as we are relying a lot on the skill, expertise and knowledge that an intensivist can offer to the care of patients who are seriously ill."
Mr Poots officially opened the new high dependency unit at Daisy Hill Hospital on Monday.
"This use of new technology, in the form of the telepresence robot, is at the cutting edge of innovation in our health service and makes the best use of health resources to the benefit of patients," he said.
"Effective hospital networks and the use of innovative technologies are fundamental to the future of health care as recommended in Transforming Your Care."
The Transforming Your Care document, compiled by the chief executive of the Health and Social Care board, John Compton, is the road map for how health services will be delivered in Northern Ireland.
The new high dependency unit at Daisy Hill Hospital has 10 beds and will be used for treating the most acutely ill patients in the hospital.
A high dependency unit is designed to deliver care to those patients who are seriously and critically ill and who require close monitoring and a high level of medical care.