Robots Roll to Help When ER Encounters Mental Health Cases

Two InTouch Health robots that rolled onto the NorthBay Healthcare campus in 2011 now have new responsibilities. In addition to helping NorthBay hospital staff connect potential stroke patients with experts in Sacramento, they’ll also be available to help in cases where patients in the Emergency Department appear to have mental health issues, according to Patty Kramer, director of Social Services.

The new service, called Tele-Mental Health, will allow emergency room doctors to reach out 24/7 to psychiatrists who are part of the Dignity Healthcare team of contracted providers.

“We are very excited about this new service,” says Seth Kaufman, M.D., medical director of Emergency Services at NorthBay. “Acute psychiatric complaints such as feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts are common. Having the availability of a psychiatrist 24 hours, seven days a week will greatly improve our care by allowing an earlier intervention, including medication adjustments and hospitalization if needed.”

To be clear, the robots will only be used to assess what’s going on with a patient’s mental health while their physical needs are being addressed. The service is not intended to provide ongoing mental healthcare. “The psychiatrists will be able to offer recommendations for medications and interventions that might help,” says Kramer.

Nicknamed ROMEO and Doc ‘n’ Roll, the medical-mechanical amalgamations have been rolling to patient’s bedsides at NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital since 2011, connecting NorthBay staff to experts at Dignity Health’s Mercy Neurological Institute of Greater Sacramento.

“That program turned out to be a very successful partnership and encouraged us to move forward with this plan, so we now have a psychiatric connection 24/7. And while it’s a new use of the technology, it’s not new technology at all—our staff is well-versed in working with the robots,” says Kramer.

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