Telemedicine Initiative Allows Neurologists to Evaluate Patients Remotely

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PANAMA CITY- A new telemedicine initiative at Gulf Coast Medical Center is allowing neurologists to be bedside with patients, from virtually, anywhere. Thanks to a WiFi connection and robotic cameras, neurologists can see patients, evaluate their condition, and prescribe potentially lifesaving medications remotely.

Thanks to a camera she controls, Dr. Hoda Elzawahry is able to evaluate a stroke patient without relying on second hand information over the phone. "The technology works by allowing us to have eyes and ears on the ground in a remote area. So instead of patients emergently being brought in via ambulance, we are able to see them, examine them, and give them lifesaving medication before they are brought in, or they can stay in their hospital," explained Dr. Elzawahry.

With stroke patients, time is of the essence. "The brain is different than other parts of the body in that when it doesn't receive oxygen in an appropriate time period it just dies. It is only approved to receive the special clotbusting drug, which should reverse stroke, in a 4.5 hour time window. In this time window the benefits outweigh the risks, however after this time period the risks outweigh the benefits. So it is crucial that in this window patients are evaluated and then receive the medication," said Dr. Elzawahry.

The program is new at Gulf Coast, but Dr. Elzawahry has already put it to good use. She was doing her Sunday grocery shopping when a 48-year-old had a stroke. "I was able to get in my car, where the computer is with me at all times and I remoted-in and saw the patient clearly looked like he'd had a stroke. I had the CAT scan, the vitals, even the labs are available on the computer, and we knew right that instant that the patient needed the medication. Pharmacy was there, mixed it up and he received it and he is actually doing rather well. Technology has allowed us to create all these medications and treatment options, why not use our abilities to remote in," said Dr. Elwawahry. Now the answer is: we can.

Gulf Coast's goal is to be the Northwest Florida hub for outlying regions, to provide critical care for patients who've suffered a stroke, getting them the lifesaving medication they need when time can make all the difference.