Hospital staff affectionately call it the “clot-busting robot.”
Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine has a new way to rapidly identify and treat strokes using telemedicine — a medical robot.
The medical robot brings a stroke specialist right into the Baylor Grapevine emergency department. The stroke specialist is actually 40 miles away in downtown Baylor, and he or she works with a Baylor Grapevine emergency department physician and patient via an iPad or laptop or similar technology and the medical robot.
“It’s Skype on wheels,” said Robert Risch, Baylor Grapevine medical director and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine.
Risch said the new robot — which costs approximately $50,000 — is a great way to cope with the shortage of physicians that is affecting many hospital systems across the country.
Since the robot’s implementation, Baylor Grapevine had treated more than 20 total telestroke patients, according to Dr. Dion Graybeal, medical director of strokes for Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.
The technology, which is used throughout the Baylor system, is a busy one. On May 21, from 1:38 p.m. to 2:39 p.m., they received five calls — two from Grapevine.
“This technology helps us provide safe and timely and effective therapy,” Graybeal said. “The quicker we can offer therapy, the better the outcomes for our patients.”
A stroke is a brain attack, meaning the blood and other nutrients needed by the brain are suddenly cut off. The longer the brain is without blood flow, the more severe the damages of the stroke.
To stop the brain attack, doctors often use a clot-busting drug — tissue plasminogen activator (tPA, also known as IV rtPA), which is given through an IV.
The drug, which must be given within hours of the onset of stroke symptoms, works by dissolving the clot and improving blood flow to the part of the brain being deprived of blood flow.
According to Baylor Grapevine, the stroke specialist must consult with emergency department doctor to give the diagnosis. The telemedicine makes the stroke specialist immediately available 24/7, 365 days a year, Graybeal said.
“Anywhere I have the Internet, I can beam in and immediately be there,” Graybeal said.
Baylor Grapevine has yet to name its robot. Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth calls theirs SARA — Stroke Assessment Robotic Assistant.
Among the first Baylor patients treated by telemedicine was Jan Reinhart, who had no history of strokes until she had a sudden seizure at home. She was brought to Baylor Grapevine by ambulance and given tPA and has made a full recovery.
Reinhart said she was home in Grapevine and her brother was visiting when she began acting strangely, including the inability to talk.
“It was like the TV speaker was in my head blaring and echoing,” she said. “Then I went into a full-blown seizure.”
She was told her stroke “was one of the worst ones you can have.”
“They not only saved my life, they got me to where I have no damage because I received that clotbuster so quickly,” Reinhart said. “That telemedicine is just awesome.”