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Say hello to Sara: Stroke assessment robot

🕐 3 min read

Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

Baylor All Saints Medical Center has added an important piece of new machinery – a 7-foot-tall robot dubbed SARA by the staff.

SARA, which stands for Stroke Assessment Robotic Assistant, connects the Fort Worth hospital’s emergency room staff to a team of Baylor system neurologists around the clock, when a patient comes in showing symptoms of a stroke.

“They can come in within literally seconds in a condition where seconds matter,” Dr. David Klein, Baylor All Saints’ president said.

Baylor brought the $60,000 SARA into the hospital a little more than a month ago, and the ER has used it in as many as a dozen cases, Klein said during a recent demonstration in the All Saints emergency room.

Last year, Baylor brought a similar robot into its Irving hospital for use in stroke situations. It also has another one at its Waxahachie hospital, and plans to put another in one more Baylor hospital this year, said Dr. Dion Graybeal, one of the six Baylor system neurologists on the team that responds to ER calls using Wi-Fi-enabled links, desktops, laptops and iPad Minis.

The technology also could be put into play in smaller hospitals as the Baylor and Scott & White systems move through their merger, Klein and Graybeal said.

In the past, if an ER receives a patient who is exhibiting stroke systems, the call goes out to a staff neurologist.

“We’d have to call a neurologist in; that could take 30 minutes to an hour,” Klein said.

The All Saints ER can now contact the remote system if a patient exhibits symptoms.

“We can triage” with SARA, a Baylor nurse said during the recent demonstration. “We don’t have to wait for the physician to tell us” to contact the network.

Using SARA, the neurologist can view imaging and lab work, medical history and the patient, and interview her, family members, and the ER staff.

The neurologist can also order up clot-busting drugs, critical if the patient is having a stroke due to arterial blockage, Klein and Graybeal, who is based at Baylor Medical Center at Dallas, a Level 1 trauma center, said.

All Saints staff neurologists can come in on the case, or follow up.

During the demonstration with a mock patient in the Fort Worth ER, Graybeal, who was getting ready to go on a hunting trip, called in from his home office and appeared on SARA’s screen.

Using an iPad Mini, Graybeal zoomed SARA’s camera in and out of his patient’s face, and panned around the room, as if he were studying the monitors or speaking to the ER staff.

He ran his patient through a standard exam, asking her to smile, show her teeth and hold up her right arm and count to 10. He showed a series of images on the screen and asked the patient to read and relate what she saw.

“It’s a very standard exam we can do with the patient, either there or remotely,” Graybeal said.

Later in the exam, Graybeal’s transmission began breaking up, attributed to a balky Wi-Fi link at the moment.

The new technology and clot-busting drugs – called TPA – are a long shot away from stroke care 20 years ago, Klein and Graybeal said.

“The old paradigm 20 years ago, before TPA, was you called the neurologist on call, and then basically put the patient to bed,” Graybeal said.  

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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