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Hospital adds telemedical stroke care
Machine will link patients with physicians at Duke system
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Tory Shepherd (right), director of cardiopulmonary and neurophysiology services, shows Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki a new robot at Memorial Hospital. The machine will be used to administer stroke care locally through Duke university. (Bulletin photo)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A robot dubbed “Lightening McBot” is helping stroke patients at Memorial Hospital get treatment fast, a hospital official said.

“Lightening McBot” — the name hospital employees gave the 5-foot-tall robot — has video and audio technology that will be used by Duke University Health System neurologists and stroke experts to examine Memorial patients thought to be suffering strokes and determine the most appropriate treatment.

The robot was presented to the public on Wednesday morning. However, it already has been used to treat two patients, said Tory Shepherd, Memorial’s director of cardiopulmonary and neurophysiology services.

“You start talking to the screen, and you forget it’s a robot. It becomes like a person without arms,” she said.

Shepherd said the overall experience with a Duke doctor who examines a patient along with the robot is the same as if the doctor was at Memorial.

Memorial is using the robot under a contract with InTouch Health, which supplies “telemedicine” equipment to hospitals, Shepherd said.

She did not know how much Memorial is paying to use the robot.

She said, though, that the hospital is providing it as a public service, so “patients are (to be) charged nothing” for its use during doctors’ consultations.

Patients still will be charged for their medical care.

Memorial affiliated with the Duke TeleStroke Network to provide advanced neurology care to area residents.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain stops. Symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg and/or trouble with walking and talking, according to online medical information.

When someone suffers a stroke, doctors have “a short window” of time to start treatments to prevent permanent brain damage, Shepherd said.

Treatment may include tissue pasminogen activator (tPA), which dissolves blood clots and restores blood flow to the brain, hospital officials have said. The drug must be given within three hours after stroke symptoms occur.

So a person suspected of having a stroke should be brought to the hospital quickly, Shepherd emphasized.

If an emergency department physician suspects a patient has had a stroke, the Memorial doctor usually will be able to make contact with a neurologist or stroke specialist at Duke in less than four minutes, Shepherd said.

During that time, the patient will be sent for a CT scan, she said. When he or she gets back to the emergency department, the Duke doctor will be ready to examine the patient via the robot’s video/audio technology, she added.

Cameras on the robot are so high-powered that a Duke doctor can examine in-depth things as small as the pupils in a patient’s eyes, Shepherd said.

Memorial’s nurses have been trained to do any procedures in which a stroke patient needs to be touched, she said.

Dr. Noel Boaz, who is developing a medical school in Martinsville and was at the robot’s unveiling, said he thinks doctors provide better care in person.

Still, the robot is a good alternative to in-person care for Martinsville and similar communities that do not have as many specialist doctors as larger places, said Boaz.

By using it, he said, a doctor “can tell you quickly” if a patient had a stroke and whether the person might need to be transferred to Duke for surgery or other procedures.

Memorial eventually may be able to use the robot to provide care for other types of ailments, Shepherd said.

“It’s fascinating to see how technology is emerging,” said Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki, who also attended the unveiling. “It sounds like it (the robot) has a lot of potential to aid in the recovery of a patient.”


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