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Providence launches robotic telemedicine program

November 16, 2012
The ability for the Providence Spokane consulting stroke neurologist to visually share in the evaluation experience and participate in the patient’s examination as if they were at the bedside is invaluable in detecting and evaluating stroke for rural hospital patients.

Program brings stroke care to outlying community hospitals

Note to editors: To arrange a demonstration of the new telemedicine robotic program, or to get photos, contact Providence Health Care Public Relations: (509) 474-3081.

Spokane, WA—Community hospitals in the Inland Northwest can now provide a higher level of care to patients experiencing a stroke as part of a new robotic telemedicine program offered by Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. The program, coordinated through Sacred Heart’s comprehensive Stroke Center, links the vast resources of Sacred Heart’s nationally certified, award-winning stroke center with primary care physicians at participating community hospitals throughout the region, allowing patients and their physicians access to neurologists 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Patients at Lincoln Hospital in Davenport are the first to benefit by the program. A number of other hospitals throughout the region will join the network in the near future, including Whitman in Colfax, Coulee Community in Grand Coulee, Kennewick General in Kennewick, Newport Community in Newport, St. Joseph’s in Chewelah, and Mount Carmel in Colville.

Due to a national shortage of experienced neurologists, many patients in smaller communities who have experienced a stroke have chosen to bypass their local hospital, causing delays in treatment. Others, who received initial care in their local hospital, were transferred to large regional hospitals in order to be seen by a neurologist.

That is changing. “Our goal is to bring expert stroke care to patients in community hospitals, allowing patients to remain under the care of their primary physician and close to home whenever appropriate,” says Tena Cramer, director of neuroscience services at Providence Sacred Heart.

By using technology to bring the neurologist into the community hospital, patients and physicians in rural areas have access to a wider range of specialists, technologies, and services that are otherwise unavailable, thus reducing the need for transfer to a high-level medical referral center like Providence Sacred Heart.

“In those instances when a higher level of care is needed for more seriously ill patients, transfer to Providence Sacred Heart is seamless. With the use of robotic technology, patients will have been evaluated by a neurologist and their treatment plans prepared prior to arrival at Sacred Heart, resulting in more efficient and cost effective care,” Cramer adds.

The program is a partnership between community hospitals and Providence. Within moments of a request for a medical consultation, a Providence specialist can activate the robot to assess the patient as though he or she were in the same room.

The robot is manufactured by InTouch Health, and has been installed in more than 500 clinical locations throughout the world. Here’s how it works: a neurologist, seated at a computer control station at Sacred Heart, connects via Internet to the robot (which stands 5 feet 6 inches tall) located at a network hospital. The physician uses a joystick to maneuver the robot, its camera and 360-degree infrared sensors at the patient’s bedside to view vital signs and charts, and to interact and converse with the patient, family members, physician or nurse.

Stroke expert Madeleine Geraghty, MD, shares, “The ability for the consulting stroke neurologist to visually share in the evaluation experience—to participate in the patient’s examination as if they were at the bedside with the community emergency room physician—is invaluable in detecting stroke and in differentiating the low risk/minor stroke from the potentially catastrophic stroke.”

“The capability of hospitals like Lincoln to request an immediate neurological consultation for a patient becomes increasingly important as our population ages – resulting in higher incidents of stroke and neurological issues,” says Tom Martin, chief executive of Lincoln Hospital in Davenport. “This technology gives our community access to a higher level of care through the specialized physicians at Sacred Heart and the ability to keep patients at Lincoln Hospital,” he says.

Providence Telemedicine Program at Sacred Heart is initially offering neurological and stroke expertise to community hospitals. It will expand to include internal medicine hospitalists and other specialties based on needs identified by participating community hospitals. “Demand for physician subspecialists will only grow as our population ages. That, in conjunction with a national shortage of physician subspecialists make this program vital to the health of patients living in rural communities,” says Martin.

The program also includes an educational component. When requested by network hospitals, Providence will provide additional training to hospital staff so that more patients are able to stay in their local hospital.

“It is part of our mission to expand access to health care, and provide that care in the most economical way possible,” says Cramer.

About Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital is the second largest medical center in Washington state, with 644 licensed beds. In addition to a 161-bed Children's Hospital—with more than 90 pediatric sub-specialists and a Level III NICU—the Medical Center features a certified Stroke Center, comprehensive cardiac programs, a robotic center for minimally invasive surgery, , inpatient psychiatric care and more. The only Level II Trauma Center in the Inland Northwest, Sacred Heart boasts many services often only found in university settings, including a heart and kidney transplant program, a world-class research department, residency programs and more. Its service area extends to about 1.5 million people in the four states. For more information, visit www.shmc.org.

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