COVID-19 telepresence device connects frontliners to patients, patients to loved ones

Health care workers in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) can now connect with their patients without physically being present in COVID wards, thanks to telepresence devices that “limit exposure, conserve personal protective equipment (PPE), and provide clear communication with a friendly face.”

These telepresence devices not only help nurses and doctors, anxious and lonely patients isolated from their families and moral support system can also remotely communicate with their loved ones during their fight to survive the disease.

This technology solution was developed by the University of the Philippines Manila – College of Medicine Surgical Innovation and Biotechnology Laboratory or UPM-CM SIBOL COVID Task Force composed of collaborating clinicians from UP Manila and engineers, scientists, and artists from UP Diliman funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).

“COVID-19 is projected to require a massive inventory of medical supplies. This was the impetus for us to convene the SIBOL COVID Task Force,” according to Dr. Edward Wang, lead of the SIBOL team. The Task Force, recently formed to support the fight against coronavirus pandemic, is composed of three teams working on Disinfection, PPE, and Telemonitoring.

SIBOL, a Filipino term for germination, is an existing program of DOST-PCHRD which originally aims to “use locally sourced material and technology to produce much needed surgical and medical devices in the country” (Wang, 2020).

The telepresence device is the first SIBOL product deployed by the team at PGH after two weeks of collaboration. “Inspired by triage booths initially set-up to screen ambulatory patients, the team led by Dr. Nathaniel Orillaza Jr. (Orthopedics), Dr. Pros Naval (Computer Science), and Dr. Luis Sison and Dr. Roel Ocampo (Electronics & Electrical Engineering Institute) assembled devices which allowed health care workers to connect to patients remotely,” said Dr. Wang.

The telepresence devices are “computers programmed to automatically answer calls from authorized accounts using available teleconferencing and remote-control applications, thus minimizing contamination and allowing effortless access even by patients with no technological know-how.” Materials used for initial deployment were sponsored by Xavier School Class of 1975 while wooden stands were designed, manufactured, and subsidized by Projektzulu Co. The team also acknowledges the Department of Orthopedics for providing headquarters and logistical support for this SIBOL Telemonitoring project.

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