Robot helps save rural hospital

Jun 5, 2014

Hamilton County Hospital CEO Bryan Coffey with the robot.

Hamilton County Hospital is a small, rural hospital in southwestern Kansas.  A little over a year ago, it was on the brink of closing because of financial and staffing problems says chief executive Bryan Coffey. 

“The reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated,” he says in a recent article from the Kansas Health Institute.

Coffey says using a robot has been a key factor in the facility’s dramatic turnaround.

The robot connects distant doctors with patients and local medical providers in real time via a high-definition mobile visual display that includes various monitoring and imaging attachments such as a digital stethoscope.

The hospital now is able to “beam in big-city care in a rural health care environment, all while saving the federal government money and lowering overall health care costs,” Coffey said, noting that many of the hospital’s patients are on Medicare.

The machine that makes it possible, he said, reminds him of the robot in the 2008 animated film “WALL-E” “but without the googley eyes.”

Kent Schwieterman is the board chair.  He says the hospital turnaround is important for the county.

“Without this hospital (which is a major employer) it would be really hard to see any future” for Hamilton County, he says. “It's pretty amazing from where we were a year ago or even around January. I was pretty fearful and wasn't sure which direction we would go. We can see a lot of daylight now. I have a pretty good feeling about it.”

Bryan Coffey has written a white paper to show small hospitals how to make the machines that cost $50,000 or more a workable investment.

The white paper and more details are available online from the Kansas Health Institute.