New hospital officially opens in Irvine

Dr. Jason Knight, a pediatric specialist at CHOC, remotely mans the robot named Sara at the new Hoag Hospital Irvine.
Dr. Jason Knight, a pediatric specialist at CHOC, remotely mans the robot named Sara at the new Hoag Hospital Irvine. Susan Valot/KPCC

The new Hoag Hospital Irvine officially opens its doors today. It replaces the old Irvine Regional Medical Center, which closed early last year.

The interior of the new hospital has been rebuilt with some cutting-edge medical technology.

Paper is mostly gone. The doctors' records are all electronic.

The operating rooms have a curtain of air that blows on the patient who's under the knife. That's designed to keep germs and infections away. The operating rooms are also wired and ready-to-go for any newer technology, whenever it comes in.

The hospital's CT scanner is an example of some of that newer technology. It scans a more detailed image than a traditional CT scanner, but exposes the patient to only about half the radiation of a traditional scanner.

And if you end up the patient in a tough case, you might meet Sara. She's a rolling machine that looks like a mix between WALL-E and the Jetsons’ Rosie the Robot.

During a tour of the new Hoag Hospital Irvine, Robert Braithwaite, the hospital's chief administrative officer, introduces the tour group to Dr. Jason Knight, whose face is smiling through the screen that tops Sara the Robot.

Knight is a pediatric intensive care doctor at a hospital about 15 miles away. Braithwaite talks as though Dr. Knight is in Irvine. Dr. Knight can see everybody by swiveling around the screen that shows his face. And he can hear everybody, too.

"What this technology allows us to do is, oftentimes, in an ER, you need an expertise — a physician expertise — that’s not readily available," says Braithwaite. "It might be two in the morning and you need a neurology consult. And in the case of Dr. Knight, Dr. Knight is up at Children’s Hospital Orange County and he’s got a work station up there that he operates from."

This is the same technology that the military uses in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If we have a child that presents to the emergency room that needs a pediatric subspecialty consult in the wee hours of the morning. Guess what? We can bring Dr. Knight in immediately, right to the bedside," says Braithwaite.

Similar robots are in about 200 hospitals nationwide. Dr. Jason Knight says he finds them pretty easy to use, especially since he grew up in the Atari generation, where joysticks ruled the world.

"It allows me to move around the room," he says, with his voice coming through the speakers on the robot.

"It allows me to talk with the family, assess the patients by looking very closely at them, their skin color, their respiratory rate, their work of breathing, all of their vital signs, their monitor — all information which prior to the use of this robot and telemedicine, I did not have. I was not able to ever look at a patient," Knight says. "Everything I got was via the phone and through the nurse and the physician there."

If a nurse or a doctor uses the stethoscope attached to the robot, Dr. Knight can even hear the heartbeat as though he were there. And he doesn’t even have to be at work.

"I’m logging in at home, where I have a laptop computer and I have WiFi throughout my house. So I happen to be sitting in my office, but if I wanted to, I could be in my backyard or with a broadband card, I could be sitting at Starbucks, doing a consultation for the emergency department," he says.

Knight says the system gets specialists involved more quickly, which he says saves lives when you have to move fast.

He says in one recent case, they were able to get a sick child from Hoag in Newport Beach — which also has a robot — to CHOC in Orange in about an hour because with the specialist involved at the beginning, they realized they had to move quickly if the youngster was going to live.

Knight, again talking through the robot named Sara, says he’s gotten some funny reactions from kids he’s treated through the robot.

"And the few times when they’ve come into the ICU at CHOC and I walk into the room, they look at me like, 'Well, wait, you’re the robot!'"

Dr. Robot, to be exact. And it’s something kids and other patients might see if they end up in the new 154-bed Hoag Hospital Irvine.

Most of the hospital is due to open today. The hospital's orthopedics center is expected to start taking patients in November.

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