Covenant Health uses robots to help treat stroke patients

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Three years after introducing the 'tele-stroke' robot at Covenant Health Hospitals in East Tennessee, doctors at LeConte Medical Center now use the technology on a weekly basis.

The robot allows stroke patients direct access to a stroke expert within minutes of arriving in the emergency room.

The technology uses a mobile communications network to allow physicians to talk with emergency room staff and patients using a video screen. Using the controls, the stroke expert has the ability to move the robot around the room, to the patient's bedside to perform a stroke examination. The screen also allows doctor to zoom in and out to get a closer look at the patient.

"It's an amazing thing that we have this expertise in a small rural hospital," said Steve Dronen, M.D. , Emergency Room at LeConte Medical Center.

Dr. Dronen explained while the hospital has the capabilities to respond to a stroke patient, having the stroke expertise provides a more specific diagnosis and treatment for the patient with the best results.

The other major benefit, described by Dr. S. Arthur Moore, Medical Director of Stroke Program at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, is how quickly the tele-robot allows doctors to make life-saving decisions.

"We can now do something about it. It doesn't matter if you are in rural East Tennessee or in Knoxville, we can provide the same care," said Dr. Moore.

Time is of the essence when it comes to treating a stroke. Dr. Moore said doctors only have a small window of time to make a treatment decision before the damage is permanent. The robot is helping speed up the treatment process. Instead of having to transport a patient to a larger hospital, the access to a stroke specialist is already in place.

Dr. Moore said the robot is certainly a major help, but it is still critical for patients and their families to respond to any symptom of a stroke as soon as possible.

"When you wake up in the middle of the night, something isn't right. You have slurred speech, your arm or leg is numb, go to the hospital immediately," said Dr. Moore. "Even if you think it isn't a big problem or the symptom might go away, we need you hear as soon as you get the first sign of a stroke. The faster you are in the ER the more likely we can reverse the damage."

If you suspect you are having a stroke, think FAST:

F – Face – look at your face. Is one side sagging?
A - Arms – hold out your arms – is one lower than
the other or harder to hold in place?
S - Speech – is your speech slurred or garbled?
T - Time – time is critical when trying to minimize
the effects of stroke

Call 911 and get to the hospital as quickly as possible, and be sure your hospital is stroke-ready and recognized for stroke care.