In a clinic in Cottonwood, Idaho, a child and parent talk with psychiatrist William Terry. They may talk about bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder or abuse, discussing how well their medication is working. It's a typical conversation in almost every way but one: The kid and his parents are talking to a head on a high-definition screen hanging from a robot called the RP-Lite. The RP-Lite looks less like C-3PO and more like a coat rack with a face attached to the end.
Terry is 200 miles away, at a dual-screen terminal at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. Using the joystick, he swings the robot's head and the video screen side to side. He can zoom in to observe a patient's tremors or tics.
"You can move the camera so that we can focus in on the people's face," Terry says. "If they're around the room, I can follow them in the room." It only takes seconds for the distance to fade away, and for it to feel almost like any in-person session.There is some real effort underway to provide mental health care in rural Idaho, but the combination of insufficient funding and insufficient density is pretty daunting.
I am a little annoyed at the PC claim that mental illness seldom results in violent crime. I suspect that if more people understood this connection, there would be more willingness of the legislature to spend the money needed.