Robot Joins Fight Against Strokes

Associated Press + More

PADUCAH, Ky.—A western Kentucky hospital has a new staff member to help combat strokes — a robot.

The 5-foot-6, 200-pound machine allows doctors at the University of Louisville to consult with neurologists at Western Baptist Hospital and use a joy stick to drive the robot to patients' bedsides.

Via wireless Internet, the patient sees and talks with the doctor, whose face appears in a computer screen where the robot's head would be. Mainly, the doctor wants to determine if the patient is a candidate for a clot-busting drug within the critical three hours after the onset of stroke.

"We don't have enough neurologists to actually man the emergency rooms in the hospitals, so what we're trying to do is utilize a tool," Dr. Patrick Withrow, Western Baptist vice president and chief medical officer, told The Paducah Sun.

Withrow, co-chairman of the Kentucky Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force, said the robot allows Western Baptist neurologists to consult around the clock with four UofL stroke specialists as needed.

The partnership between Western Baptist and UofL Health Center was announced last week.

From her office, Dr. Kerri Remmel, UofL Stroke Center director, steered the robot into the Western Baptist Heart Center auditorium. She used the computer screen to demonstrate a stroke examination.

"This is the future," Remmel said, "and it's here now."

The robot screen can zoom in for an examination and a view of monitors, cat scans and other diagnostic tools. The machine is equipped with a stethoscope to listen to heart, lung and carotid artery sounds for evidence of stroke, which Withrow called a brain attack or blocked artery to the brain.

Remmel said the Western Baptist robot is among 13 statewide and the first in western Kentucky. It costs UofL $5,000 a month to lease, but UofL is providing it free to Western Baptist.

Relatively few physicians are going into neurology and neurosurgery, which has created a shortage both in Paducah and nationally. Paducah has only five neurologists, including three at Western Baptist.

Yet 15 percent to 20 percent of Western Baptist's patients are stroke victims because of aging population, smoking and other risk factors, said Western Baptist neurologist John Grubbs.

Kentucky is one of 11 states in the so-called stroke belt, where the stroke death rate is 10 percent higher than the national average.

Besides saving lives, robotic consultations are projected to help cut down on soaring health care costs, which exceed $431 billion annually for stroke and heart care alone. A single stroke can cost up to $50,000 in treatment and long-term rehabilitation, Grubbs said.

Studies show that only half of robot interventions result in patient transfers to larger hospitals. Interventions save precious time, lessening risk of debilitation or death, Remmel said.

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Information from: The Paducah Sun