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A robot doctor on the sidelines

Credit: VGo Communications Inc.

Robots are turning up in schools, hospitals, and offices—and now at college football stadiums.

The Mayo Clinic and Northern Arizona University will use a robot from the Nashua, N.H., company VGo Communications Inc. as part of a ground-breaking study to determine if doctors can diagnose concussions remotely from their offices instead of in-person in the locker room.

The sleek, four-feet-tall bot that costs about $6,000 is equipped with a video screen, speaker, and microphone so that a doctor located in a distant location can communicate with—and see—members of the NAU Lumberjacks. The so-called telemedicine technology will let a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix control the VGo with an iPad and assess an injured player.

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Those evaluations conducted using the robot will be done inside the locker room off the field, and NAU staff will be doing the medical consultations. The study is meant to determine the accuracy of the remote technology in diagnosing concussions, and to see if the robots might eventually be used in high schools where players often don’t have access to trained medical staff.

“Teleconcussion is one way to bridge this gap regardless of when or where they may be playing,” said Bert Vargas, a neurologist who is leading the study for Mayo Clinic, in a statement.

The Mayo Clinic has already been using the VGo robot to treat patients in remote clinics. This is the first time it’s testing the robots to treat sports injuries.

The VGo bots are also being used in several Boston-area hospitals and in some schools in Massachusetts so that students with illnesses who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend can show up to class via their robots.

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