Telemedicine :: Michigan hospitals to have robot on call

When a patient arrives at an emergency room with symptoms of a stroke, doctors must act fast. But the crucial decisions that can prevent death or severe disability are harder to make without a neurologist, and not every hospital has one on call. Starting next month, however, 21 Michigan hospitals will have what is being touted as the next best thing: a robot on call.

Spearheaded by St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital, the project is one of several around the country in which stroke specialists from one hospital are using technology to share their expertise with smaller facilities. Experts say it’s a trend that could greatly improve patients’ chances of recovery.

St. Joseph Mercy Oakland is one of 13 certified primary stroke centers in the state and offers some of the most advanced treatment for the disease, which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts.

The new program, dubbed the Michigan Stroke Network and scheduled to be unveiled Thursday, will make the Pontiac hospital’s specialists available around the clock to any hospital in the state that joins. The on-call specialist will use a laptop and the Internet to connect to a robot in the participating hospital to join the attending physician at the patient’s bedside.

“When they’re on call, from any Starbucks or library or in their home, through Internet connectivity, we can in fact have a physician here be in the Thumb of Michigan at a rural, critical-access hospital, providing bedside assistance to the emergency room physician in the diagnosis and development of a treatment plan for a stroke patient,” SJMO Chief Executive Jack Weiner said in an interview.

That’s a better option than immediately putting the patient in an ambulance or a helicopter to travel to a better-equipped hospital, Weiner said. Such travel could significantly delay vital treatment, in addition to being costly.

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