Forty years after its pioneering days, the image of a robot at the bedside still looks futuristic to most people. At Jackson Health System, that future is now.

Telemedicine now connects doctors and patients across communities and around the world using a growing variety of applications and services: two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.

At Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center, the TeleTrauma Department of the William Lehman Injury Research Center has been working for many years to extend the boundaries of what can be done to improve healthcare delivery.

Most recently, Ryder trauma and burn specialists linked to their counterparts in Brazil to help care for injured survivors of the devastating Santa Maria nightclub fire.

“Telemedicine allows us to achieve a higher standard of care because there are no borders,” said Antonio Marttos, M.D., TeleTrauma director.

Florida Emergency Preparedness
The Florida Department of Health Office of Trauma is working with the Ryder team to develop a teletrauma network within the state to ensure emergency preparedness and adequate response in case of a disaster. By linking trauma centers and regional hospitals, experts can “virtually” help determine severity of injuries and who should be evacuated for more specialized care.

One of the main problems in any disaster is to manage the “surge capacity,” which means having enough facilities, supplies, equipment and personnel available for the number of injured. Telemedicine not only provides more medical attention, but can be used to instantly marshal expertise from leading doctors, wherever they might be.

Global Treatment of Athletes

In addition to helping the nightclub fire victims, Dr. Marttos and his team are currently working with Brazilian medical officials to establish a telemedicine-integrated trauma system for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games taking place in that country. As a pilot program, the team collaborated with the Brazilian Olympic Committee to provide health care to Brazilian athletes at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

“The goal is to provide the best medical care in any specialty, regardless of where the athlete is performing,” Dr. Marttos said. “We’re setting a new paradigm for how athletes around the globe will be treated and evaluated. Using telemedicine in this way essentially levels the playing field.”

In preparation, teams of physicians and nurses from Rio de Janeiro have started training at Ryder Trauma Center. The two-week training periods are expected to continue for nearly four years.

On the Battlefield

Since 2001, the U.S. Army has trained all of its Forward Surgical Teams at Ryder before sending them into combat. The Army has also partnered with Ryder’s Lehman Center to study the clinical usefulness of the InTouch Health Remote Presence (RP-7) robot in trauma care. A physician at the control station in Miami can see a wounded soldier through the monitor of an RP-7 in a field hospital, thus connecting world-class trauma physicians to support military medical personnel.

At the Bedside

In a hospital intensive-care setting, a major focus is to reduce the spread of infection. Physician rounding, while important in assessing patient progress, often brings a large group of clinicians to the bedside, thus increasing the opportunities for infection.

In Ryder’s Trauma Intensive Care Unit, telemedicine is being used to reduce this risk. The rounding team stays in a nearby conference room and uses a videoconferencing system – which the TeleTrauma Department developed – to watch a live video stream from a robot at the bedside. Using the robot, the team can read vital signs and even view an exam conducted by the clinician at the patient’s side.

In the Operating Room

Ryder Trauma and Lehman Center teams have developed a mobile telemedicine/tele-education system for use in the operating room. A high-definition camera is attached to a retractable arm, which can extend over the operating table to transmit audio and video to a remote location. Trauma surgeons can observe and consult on cases, and an attending physician can review the resident physicians in action and offer teaching, guidance and support. The remote surgeon has the ability to control the camera. The resulting high-quality video can also be used later for teaching purposes.

The Future Is Now

Far from being a futuristic dream, the use of telemedicine is becoming integrated into the ongoing operations of the best hospitals, specialty departments, home health agencies and private physician offices as well as consumer’s homes and workplaces.

Ryder Trauma Center continues to be at the forefront of this very beneficial technology.