John Walmsley RRT, RDCS, right, of Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande, discusses a stress echocardiogram with Dr. Charles Rasmussen of St. Alphonsus in Boise via remote presence on theInTouch Health robot. TRISH YERGES photo
by TRISH YERGES / Observer correspondent
With the help of a robot, a cardiologist in Boise can now view an echocardiograph of a patient who is taking a stress test at Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande
LA GRANDE — The Grande Ronde Hospital announced Jan. 28 its stress echocardiography service equipped with a treadmill, examining table, ultrasound equipment and the InTouch Health robot that conveniently connects patients with cardiologist via tele-medicine technology.
A stress echocardiogram (echo) is an ultrasound picture of the patient’s heart, its chambers and valves while the patient exercises on either a treadmill or stationary bicycle. The image is seen live by the patient’s cardiologist at a distant medical facility via the InTouch Health robot.
John Walmsley RRT, RDCS, is the echo technician who operates the sensitive equipment and interacts with the adult or pediatric patient during the exam. The echo is capable of helping the cardiologist diagnose aortic stenosis, congenital heart defects, blood clots and heart attacks among other conditions.
The patient’s echo is examined in real time. With the assistance of a nurse, the robot’s plug-in accessories can be used for further examination and recording. The accessories include a plug-in stethoscope, a private headset and a printer. The physician can listen to the patient’s heartbeats while sitting in his own office in Boise, Portland or another distant location.
A stress echo can be performed in about 30 minutes and the patient can get immediate feedback from his physician via the robot. Since everything occurs in a single examining room at the Grande Ronde Hospital, the patient saves time and expense traveling back and forth to follow-up appointments with the surgeon.
“The cardiologist can see the ultrasounds, EKGs and get heart stats right here,” said Walmsley. “Everything I need for an outpatient exam, I can do via remote presence. It’s very exciting technology. It comes back to patient care, and the elderly patients love it.”
Cardiologist Charles Rasmussen of St. Alphonsus is one of the physicians who participates in the Grande Ronde Hospital’s tele-medicine stress echocardiography. He is on the GRH staff and has hospital privileges, as well as the credentials to diagnose echocardiograms.
“I’m excited to see stress echocardiography used with the InTouch Health robot,” said Dr. Rasmussen. “I get to observe it live. It’s a modality that expands stress echocardiography, and it’s a relief for the patient—no travel worries through the ice and snow.”
This elite technology sets the Grande Ronde Hospital in the forefront of medical technology. Executive Director of Patient Care Services Doug Romer said that as far as they are aware and as far as their consulting providers know, no one else in the world is doing stress-echo cardiology diagnostic testing via remote presence technology.
Despite this landmark acquisition, their mission at GRH remains quite simple. Board member Burr Betts put it this way: “Our mission is to provide medicine for the community and not to build some big dynasty.”
Without doubt, the InTouch Health robot will bring many benefits to patients in the community.
“We have the experts via robot,” said Walmsley, who has learned a lot from the cardiologists. “We just need a little more training, and we’ll be able to do a lot.”
President and CEO Jim Mattes said that when his own wife became a patient at GRH, that’s when he felt the sense of patient care on a deeply personal level. He felt the relief that patients feel when they can easily connect with qualified physicians via tele-medicine.
Romer said that the savings for patients and for the healthcare system are significant.
“Our patients have saved about $2 million in transportation costs in the last 60 months due to tele-medicine technology,” said Romer.
There are also times when the rewards of tele-medicine are measured in tears of happiness.
“We had a mother and baby daughter separated right after birth, but we brought them together (visually) over the robot,” said Walmsley.
For more information about stress echocardiology via tele-medicine, ask your physician or visit www.grh.org.