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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 17, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 15
Medical Robot Shows Its Potential for Long-Distance Teaching

Michele Molyn Bleech, director of marketing for MidAtlantic Medical and a student in the MBA in Medical Services Management program, shares a laugh with classmate Alex Gandsas, seen on the robot's video screen, who is participating in tonight's class from Argentina.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Andrew Blumberg
Carey Business School

Students in the Carey Business School's Business of Health's MBA in Medical Services Management program were recently treated to a presentation by one of their colleagues — who happened to be 6,000 miles away in his native Argentina at class time.

In an information technology course that is part of the program's curriculum, Alex Gandsas, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins and head of the Division of Bariatric Surgery at Sinai Hospital, demonstrated an innovative use for the medical robot that he employs in making post- operative patient rounds. Equipped with a laptop, joystick, Web cam and suitable bandwidth, Gandsas was able to deliver from his hotel room in South America an interactive presentation, complete with slide show, as he communicated with his fellow students and the course instructor, Ed Lewis, via the robot's video conferencing system. Gandsas was able to even remotely move about the room, via the robot, for added effect and presence.

"I feel that this technology really allows me to almost teleport myself from one place to another," Gandsas says. "Exercises like this show that we really can expand the role of a robot to teaching and instruction."

Using the robot during rounds had revealed that patients were comfortable asking questions and discussing their cases with their physicians, who could see and be seen, thanks to the device's flat-panel video screen and audio capabilities. "Experience has shown that patients would rather see their surgeon than a resident or a nurse, and that held true with the robot," Gandsas says.

Gandsas, who estimates that a single robot on rounds can save a hospital $350,000 a year by helping to decrease stays to an average of one day after bariatric surgery, sees similar economic and logistical advantages in expanding the robot's role in teaching. Already, he has started a project at Sinai to train surgeons overseas with the aid of the robot, and he envisions the same scenario at Johns Hopkins. "Time issues, travel issues, visa issues can all be rendered moot," he says. "Now, instructors can virtually go anywhere. I think this technology can change the paradigm of education in the future."

Jointly offered by the Carey Business School and the School of Medicine, the MBA in Medical Services Management degree was created and structured specifically for medical professionals — physicians, nurses, other clinicians, senior health care administrators and medical practice managers. Participants gain the business tools and knowledge needed to understand and analyze the changing nature of today's complex medical delivery systems, plus the resources and acumen to anticipate and respond to those changes.


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