A new robotic system allows medical staff to remotely operate ventilators and other bedside machines from outside intensive care rooms of patients with infectious diseases.
The system, developed by a team of Johns Hopkins University and Medicine researchers, is still being tested, but initial trials have demonstrated how it could be deployed to help hospitals preserve protective gear, limit staff exposure to COVID-19 and provide more time for medical work.
“Two of the toughest challenges we faced at the peak of COVID-19 were staffing and PPE (personal protective equipment),” says Sajid H. Manzoor, director of adult respiratory therapy at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The pandemic spurred a massive surge of highly infectious, intensive care patients requiring ventilators, infusion pumps and other support equipment. Treating them requires hospital personnel to change protective gear every time they enter rooms, even for minor adjustments to machines.
“This remote-control system will be a force multiplier for our frontline clinicians,” said Jonathan Cope, a respiratory therapist who assisted with the project. “Being able to save time to deliver more care to more patients will pay huge dividends when we face massive scenarios such as pandemics.”
University of Maryland computer science graduate student Misha Khrenov – working under computer science professor Axel Krieger, who joined The Johns Hopkins University in July – and Johns Hopkins research scientist Balázs P. Vágvölgyi built the working prototype.
The robotic device is affixed to the ventilator’s touch screen with a horizontal bar secured across the top edge. The bar serves as a stationary track for the back-and-forth movement of two connected vertical bars that extend the full height of the screen. As the vertical bars sweep across the screen, a stylus they carry moves up and down according to its commands, similar to how an Etch A Sketch moves its drawing tool along an X-Y axis. A camera connected to the top bar sends an image of the screen to the operator’s tablet outside the room.
“Whether it’s for Covid or the next pandemic, there is always going to be a need for this,” he said. “It will definitely end up in the ICU environment in the coming years.”