Science fiction now science fact with help of iRobot

Dr. Tom Miller, chief medical officer at the University of Utah, introduces a partnership with Community Hospital on Monday. Community Hospital and University of Utah Health Care on Monday announced their affiliation under which physicians at the University of Utah will be available to treat patients at the Grand Junction hospital via remote technology.

An Intouch Health robot is demonstrated at a news conference at Community Hospital on Monday. Dr Aleks Tkach, a neurologist from Utah, takes questions through the robot about the new technology that will bring patients here in touch with specialists at the University of Utah.

Patients suffering from cancer to burns to strokes to emotional and mental distress can get treatment from specialists at the University of Utah by checking in at Community Hospital.

And they’ll do so with the help of an iRobot.

Community Hospital and University of Utah Health Care on Monday announced their affiliation under which physicians at the University of Utah will be available, just as any specialist might be.

Only in this case, the consulting physician in Salt Lake City can examine a patient, review charts and speak with a treating physician and other care providers at Community Hospital via an Internet hookup and an iRobot.

“We can all be working in parallel,” said Dr. Aleks Tkach with the University of Utah’s stroke center in Salt Lake City.

Tkach was the face on the screen of the iRobot that was itself introduced as Community Hospital and University of Utah Health Care officials demonstrated the possibilities of their new partnership.

During a consultation, Tkach can see and speak directly with patients and staff, as well as see monitors and charts almost as if he were in the room.

The iRobot also can be maneuvered on wheels by the physician, who also can move its “head” to view the area.

“This will be especially good for our patients,” said Dr. Don Nicolay, chief medical officer at Community Hospital.

Among the specialties that will be available to Community Hospital patients will be high-risk obstetrics. neonatology, cancer care, advanced cardiovascular care, neuroscience, trauma and transplant services — all which are frequently unavailable in communities such as Grand Junction, Nicolay noted.

Some of the impetus for the new partnership is a decision by St. Mary’s Hospital to bar its employee physicians from holding privileges at Community Hospital, officials said.

Community Hospital also approached the University of Colorado, which operates a medical school and hospital on the Front Range, but it didn’t work out, said Chris Thomas, president and CEO at Community Hospital.

“We felt this was a better fit for us,” Thomas said of the partnership with the University of Utah.

The agreement with the University of Utah cost little, Thomas said. The hospital provides the equipment, he said.

Staff at Community Hospital also can be trained at University of Utah Health Care, Thomas said.

Patients who get the telemedicine consultations will be billed just as they would have had the specialists been in their rooms.

Patients also can be referred to University of Utah Health Care and can coordinate their care with University of Utah Health Care after they return to their homes in Colorado, officials said.

University of Utah Health Care comprises four hospitals, including the Huntsman Cancer Institute, 10 clinics, and 1,200 physicians on its faculty, said Tad Morley, executive director of outreach and network development.

The agreement with Community Hospital marks the sixth time University of Utah Health Care has made agreements with a hospital outside Utah, Morley said.

Other states in the network include Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming, he said.

In addition to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah Health Care includes University Neuropsychiatric Institute, University Orthopaedic Institute and University Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Community Hospital will remain as an independent entity, and both organizations are free to pursue other agreements, Thomas said.


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