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Robot helps doctors treat patients in rural areas

November 5th, 2007

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Kerri Remmel, pictured on the screen of the RP-7 robot, interacts with colleagues remotely.

Most doctors wish they could be two places at once. Now some of them can.

UofL Health Care is teaming with Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS) to use the latest technology to provide care to patients in rural and outlying areas of Central and Western Kentucky.

The device, a 5-foot, 6-inch robot called the RP-7, works through remote control. It was invented and made by InTouch Health of Santa Barbara, Calif.

Within moments of a request for medical consultation, a doctor seated at a computer control station — at her home or office in Louisville, an airport terminal or anywhere in the world that has a wireless connection — can connect via the Internet to the RP-7 Robot located in the OMHS Emergency Room.

Through the robot, a doctor can interact and converse with a patient, patient’s family, physician or nurse through a live, two-way audio and video connection. Using a joystick, camera and 360-degree infrared sensors, the UofL Health Care doctor can maneuver the robot through the hospital to a patient’s bedside and move the robot’s head to see vital signs on monitors and charts.

In essence, the robot allows physicians to be in two places at once.

The emergency and neurology departments at OMHS will be the first to use the system, and UofL’s nationally renowned neurology faculty physicians will provide treatment for stroke patients. More specialties may be added later.

“The robot is an invaluable physician tool,” said Kerri Remmel, director of University Hospital Stroke Center and interim chair of UofL’s department of neurology.

Remmel has tested and used the robot within University Hospital for several months, and over the weekend was able to quickly assess and treat two neurological patients at OMHS. She conducted a demonstration at an announcement of the partnership Nov. 5.

“I have found that using the robot means that patients can be accessed more quickly, which expands treatment and intervention opportunities, and eventually opens up opportunities for enrollment in national clinical trials that benefit all patients,” she said.

“Our intent is to complement the great services of OMHS and others,” said Larry Cook, UofL executive vice president for health affairs.

Cook conceived the UofL Health Care Central and Western Kentucky initiative.

There are many highly qualified physicians providing service in Central and Western Kentucky, he said, explaining that the robot provides a link between the academic medical center in Louisville, and hospitals and physicians in those areas that want to access services on an as-needed basis.

UofL Health Care is made up of the University of Louisville’s Health Sciences Center, University of Louisville Hospital and University Physicians Associates.

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