The family of a dying 78-year-old man have been left devastated after a hospital robot rolled into his room to deliver the news that he did not have long to live.
Ernest Quintana was taken to the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in the San Francisco Bay area of California last weekend after suffering breathing difficulties, and died on Tuesday.
His family had known that he would die of his chronic lung disease, but were not expecting to receive news of his imminent death when a robot arrived at the intensive care unit on the night Mr Quintana was admitted.
Rather than a doctor deliver the news that he would likely die within days in person, one flashed up on a screen on the robot to tell them via video link.
It has sparked outrage among the family of Mr Quintana, who thought the robot was making routine visit.
Daughter Catherine Quintana said: “If you’re coming to tell us normal news, that’s fine.
“But if you’re coming to tell us there’s no lung left and we want to put you on a morphine drip until you die, it should be done by a human being and not a machine.”
Part of the exchange between the on-screen doctor and the shocked family was captured on video by Annalisia Wilharm, granddaughter of Mr Quintana, who was alone with him when the robot appeared.
The 33-year-old said she had been told by a nurse that a doctor would be making his rounds.
“This guy cannot breathe, and he’s got this robot trying to talk to him,” she said.
“This guy is telling him, ‘So we’ve got your results back, and there’s no lung left. There’s no lung to work with.'”
Ms Wilharm said she had to repeat what the doctor said to her grandfather because he was hard of hearing in his right ear and the machine was unable to get to the other side of the bed.
The hospital has defended its use of the robot, insisting that the diagnosis came after several physician visits and that it did not replace “previous conversations with the patient and family members”.
But Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice-president of Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda County, added that hospital policy was to have a nurse or doctor in the room when remote consultations took place and acknowledged it had fallen short of the family’s expectations.
“We will use this as an opportunity to review how to improve patient experience with tele-video capabilities,” she said.