UAH College of Nursing students learn using new telehealth robots


Nursing Dean Dr. Marsha Adams and graduate teaching assistant Vince Andrews demonstrate clinical simulation training with the telehealth robots.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Four new telehealth robots named Charger Blue I, II, III, and IV are opening the world to University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Nursing students for clinical simulation training and research collaborations.

The mobile robots, which essentially marry an iPad onto a mini Segway, have been made possible by a grant from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama Foundation, says Nursing Dean Dr. Marsha Howell Adams.

"UAH is the only College of Nursing in the State of Alabama to integrate the technology at this level," says Adams.

Increasingly, medicine is adapting new technology innovations to provide greater healthcare access to rural and underserved communities, and telehealth robots like the Double Robotics units at the College of Nursing are in the vanguard of that effort. The UAH robots can be used to call in healthcare providers to train students and for offsite faculty and research collaborations across disciplines and across the globe. The College of Nursing is currently exploring one such research opportunity with a German engineer.

Controlled by a computer or cell phone, the robots allow offsite students or healthcare providers to have a physical presence at bedside and to remotely "walk around" to observe a patient, ask questions, change or initiate prescriptions or give instructions to providers who are physically present. These communication interactions occur in real time. Because the provider's face appears on the iPad, the human element is added to the interactions.

"This is a way to improve access to care, improve patient outcomes and to promote health," says Adams. "They provide a 360-degree view of the room and of the patient."

The integration of this new technology can create a telepresence for online students pursuing an advanced practice degree (nurse practitioner) as they communicate with the traditional nursing students who are physically present in the simulation center.

"We want to prepare our students for telehealth, so that when they graduate they can be comfortable with that technology," says Adams.

Up to 24 advanced practice students can transmit into a clinical training simulation with traditional nursing students using the robots.

"It will allow our graduate students in our nurse practitioner pathways to actually be responsible for the management of the patient care in a simulation scenario, " Adams says.

"So many of our students work in addition to taking online classes, and this new technology provides them with much greater flexibility to participate in inter-professional collaboration," says Dr. Lori Lioce, executive director of the college's Learning and Technology Resource Center.

"Also, the robots provide the opportunity for our graduate nurse practitioner students to participate from a distance during undergraduate simulated clinical experiences in Charger Hospital," Lioce says. "As a part of clinical course requirements, graduate nurse practitioner students will receive a phone call - as the nurse practitioner 'on-call,' - from our undergraduate students about a patient's condition and diagnose and treat the simulated patient in real-time, using the robots to be present and interact."

"Through grants and donor contributions," Lioce says, "the College of Nursing has greatly expanded the state-of-the-art Learning and Technology Resource Center over the last two years under the leadership of Dean Adams."


Dr. Marsha Howell Adams

Dr. Lori Lioce

Jim Steele