FRANKFORT — The Franklin Regional Medical Center on Thursday rolled out — literally — its newest tool in stroke diagnosis: a "remote presence physician robot" that will allow University of Louisville doctors to recognize strokes and other neurological ailments within minutes.
The robot has a high-resolution screen that rotates perched atop a wheeled column that can move in any direction. U of L now has such robots at 13 hospitals in Kentucky.
Stroke treatment and heart ailments are the top two causes of transfer from the Frankfort hospital, according to Michael Presley, medical director of the emergency department at the Frankfort medical center. The hospital transfers 12 to 15 patients a month for strokes and related problems.
With strokes, minutes matter. In some cases, patients have three hours or less to avoid potentially crippling brain damage.
Dr. Kerri Remmel, a U of L neurologist, said that patients get used to the technology quickly: "It takes about 30 seconds," she said, speaking via her own remote robot from Louisville.
"Rapid assessment is important when it comes to stroke and other neurological conditions," Remmel said.
Assuming that a patient arrived at the Frankfort hospital an hour and a half into a treatable stroke, that would have made diagnosis and appropriate medication a close call at best.
But with the robotic technology, a Louisville doctor can figuratively beam into the room 24/7 from U of L, from his home or from a remote location. While diagnosis by long distance is nothing new — TV hookups have been available since the 1950s — the visual acuity of the new generation of robots will allow a diagnosing doctor in Louisville to manipulate the computer so close as to see the activity within the pupils of a patient's eyes.
Kentucky has 27 of the InTouch robots, according to Marie Gonzales, a regional account manager with California-based InTouch Health, 15 of them at U of L sites. The robots are leased at a rate of $4,500 a month; insurance programs pay for the remote patient diagnosis.
Locations for the robots operated by U of L range from Pikeville to Paducah, and they are used primarily for stroke diagnosis.