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California man learns he's dying via 'robot' that video conferenced his doctor

The man's granddaughter said she was stunned to hear from a doctor on a video screen that her grandfather didn't have long to live.
Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center and Offices
Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center and OfficesGoogle Maps

A California man was given a terminal diagnosis via what his family described as a "robot" with a video screen that conferenced in his doctor.

Ernest Quintana, 79, went Sunday to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center's emergency department in Fremont, the San Francisco Bay Area news station KTVU reported Thursday.

Annalisia Wilharm, Quintana's granddaughter, said she was with him in the intensive care unit when a nurse said a doctor would be making his rounds. Wilharm said a robot then arrived in the room and the doctor appeared on a video screen. A hospital spokesperson said a nurse brought the device into the room and that it does not navigate on its own.

Wilharm said she was stunned to hear from the doctor by video that her grandfather's lungs were failing and that he didn't have long to live.

Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president for Kaiser Permanente in southern Alameda County, said in a statement to NBC News that it was a "highly unusual circumstance."

"We regret falling short in meeting the patient's and family's expectations in this situation and we will use this as an opportunity to review how to improve patient experience with tele-video capabilities," the statement said.

The hospital disputed the use of the word "robot" to describe the tele-video technology. Gaskill-Hames said in her statement that the technology allows a small hospital to "have additional specialists" assist with patient care around the clock.

"This secure video technology is a live conversation with a physician using tele-video technology, and always with a nurse or other physician in the room to explain the purpose and function of the technology," Gaskill-Hames said. "It does not, and did not, replace ongoing in-person evaluations and conversations with a patient and family members."

Quintana's family members did not immediately respond to a request for comment.