Robot Ready

Diana Sullivan and Dr. Seth Kaufman Cue the Star Wars music and roll the robots: NorthBay Healthcare has gone high-tech. The arrival this summer of two bright, shiny Intouch Health robots lays the groundwork for NorthBay to become a primary stroke center.

The robots link both NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital with Mercy Neurological Institute, where neurologists and staff are available to communicate with NorthBay staff 24/7.

“The stroke program using the robots is NorthBay’s first hands-on telemedicine endeavor,” explains Kathy Richerson, vice president and chief nursing officer. “This is very high tech and exciting for us and for our community. We will bring the latest and most effective treatment for patients experiencing a stroke.”

Robots—which look a little more like Rosie from “The Jetsons” than C-3P0—feature a TV screen where the head might be. And in this case, a doctor or nurse’s image appears on that screen, creating the illusion of a face atop the ‘bot. The head gear consists of two cameras. One is for a wide angle shot, one for close-ups.

Medical staff at the Mercy Neurological Institute in Sacramento can remotely control all the robot’s moves, whether it looks up or down, needs a wide view, or a closeup. That way, the physician or nurse on the other end can see exactly what they need to see, when they need to see it.

The idea is that NorthBay will be able to stabilize stroke patients and offer more advanced treatment options or send them to another facility, should specialized interventions or surgery be required.

The robot has no arms, per se, and instead of legs, the NorthBay model rolls along with high-tech sensory equipment designed to stop on a dime if the operator is about to run into something or something is about to run into it. The VacaValley version rolls out on a cart. Both have a special stethoscope to listen to a patient’s heart and lungs and a telephone receiver on the back for private conversations.

This summer, Dr. Alan Shatzel, medical director of Neurology Services for the Mercy Neurological Institute, offered a demonstration. Controlling the robot from Sacramento, he remotely strolled down NorthBay Medical Center’s hallways, interacting with staff and even chatting with a patient or two. Dr. Shatzel has been with Mercy for six years, and with the Mercy Telehealth Network since its inception three years ago. Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) is the parent com-pany of Mercy hospitals in Sacramento. CHW operates 41 hospitals in California, Nevada and Arizona. Mercy neurologists control the robots from Mercy General Hospital and Mercy San Juan Medical Center to connect to patients at three CHW facilities. NorthBay Healthcare is the first health system outside CHW to join the Mercy Telehealth Network.

“During practice runs, it is pretty neat to drive the robot around and see everyone’s reaction,” says Dr. Shatzel. “Often, they say, ‘Dr. Shatzel, is that you?’ or ‘How did you get in there?’ or ‘Where are you right now?’ I have been across town at a meeting and pre-rounded with critical care nurses and discussed patients, which I would later see in person.”

It might take a little getting used to at first, but once he’s in robot mode, all attention is on the patient. “I really do not think about being ‘the man behind the curtain,'” says Dr. Shatzel. “The time intensity and critical nature of hyper-acute stroke keeps me focused. I obtain as much information as I can to make the right treatment decision, including visual cues, such as vital signs, patient appearance and face-to-face communication with emergency room nurses and physicians at the bedside.” In the robot mode, he can easily consult with the doctor or patient’s family, before weighing in on treatment decisions.

Dr. Seth Kaufman, medical director, who along with Dr. Lance Gough oversees the emergency departments at both NorthBay hospitals, says the whole idea of working with a robot just isn’t outlandish. “In our minds, it will be like having progressive neurologists right there in the ER to assist us with these cases.”

Since treatment for stroke is time-dependent, having the Mercy Neurological Institute on speed dial is a real boon, he said. “This will give us a portal to access them any time, and that can make a huge difference in the lives of our patients.”

Phase I has already begun, which includes training for about 85 nurses and a dozen physicians, according to Diana Sullivan, Heart & Vascular service line director, who is heading the project. Staff will learn how to interact with the robot for stroke consultations, what treatments they can offer and appropriate transfer for specialized care.

The second phase will focus on inpatient care, using the latest treatments for stroke and neurological problems. The third phase will be review by The Joint Commission, in order to gain certification as a Primary Stroke Center, according to Sullivan.

“They’ll look at our patient outcomes and our timing,” adds Richerson. “How fast we get patients evaluated and get medicine going is important. There’s a criteria we need to meet. As they say in neurology—time is brain.”

Certainly, the partnership and collaboration with Mercy is key. “NorthBay can confidently say that they have a high-quality, seamless and effective stroke care program. Advanced Robotic telehealth and technology ensures the presence of highly qualified and experienced stroke doctors at the patient’s bedside to make those important decisions, which could literally save their life,” says Dr. Shatzel.

Name Those Robots

NorthBay Healthcare invites you to help us name our hospitals’ two newest residents, for a chance to win an Apple iPad.

“We’re really excited about our robots and want the community to get involved with the excitement,” explains Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Richerson. “We thought the contest would be a fun way to do that.”

Robot No. 1 lives at NorthBay Medical Center and stands about 5 feet tall. It moves on wheels and is remotely controlled by staff at Mercy Neurological Institute of Sacramento. Robot No. 2 lives at VacaValley Hospital and is what’s known as a “desktop” model. In other words, it doesn’t have wheels, it rides along on a cart pushed by hospital staff.

Our “Name Those Robots” contest is open to both children and adults living in Solano County. NorthBay Healthcare employees can submit entries as well. Only one winner will be chosen and announced in the Winter issue of Wellspring due out in January 2011.

Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29. Only one entry per person.

E-mail your entry to or send a post card with your entry to Robot Contest, Public Relations, NorthBay Healthcare, 4500 Business Center Drive, Fairfield, CA 94534. Be sure to include your name, phone number, e-mail address, mailing address and city of residence.

Know the Signs of a Stroke

According to Dr. Seth Kaufman, medical director who along with Lance Gough, M.D., oversees the emergency departments at NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, the No. 1 issue regarding stroke is getting the public to recognize the signs and get patients in as soon as possible.

“Time is brain,” as the slogan goes.

The Five Telltale Signs

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance
    or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

If you or someone with you has more than one of these symptoms, call 911.

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