According to Dr Kerry Louw, a psychiatrist at Stellenbosch University’s faculty of medicine and health sciences (FMHS) and Tygerberg Hospital: “ICU patients are not only physically ill, but often also suffer psychologically, because they are isolated from their families, 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”.
To uplift the spirit of these patients, Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town has introduced a robot named Quintin to help families get in touch virtually with their loved ones who have been isolated at the hospital’s Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU). The Double Robotics robot looks like a computer tablet on wheels and is equipped to do video and voice calls using the WhatsApp service, or regular phone calls, allowing family members to dial in to “visit” patients in the ICU.
“Enabling contact between patients and their families has been a ‘humanising process,” Louw. She compared the experience of being a patient in an ICU to “a form of psychological anguish which involves a fear of death, unexpected pain and sensory deprivation, as well as overstimulation”.
Quintin can be remotely steered using an app, and therefore hospital staff do not have to physically enter the ward, thereby limiting the risk of infection, saving on personal protective equipment (PPE) and freeing up their time to focus on other tasks. In some cases, the robot has helped families say their last goodbyes to their loved ones.