2018-06-07 / Community

Bad Axe hospital uses robot to evaluate stroke patients

By Ben Muir


Jeanine Starcher, left, and Dr. John Ditchman, D.O., stand alongside the Stroke Assessment Machine on Monday. Jeanine Starcher, left, and Dr. John Ditchman, D.O., stand alongside the Stroke Assessment Machine on Monday. HURON COUNTY - Nurses and doctors in Bad Axe recently began work with a robot called SAM, which, through a video monitor, connects potential stroke patients with a neurologist in minutes—a task that used to take hours.

The McLaren Thumb Region in Bad Axe, formerly known as Huron Medical Center, is revamping some of its technology, starting with the Stroke Assessment Machine, or SAM.

“We’re in a rural area,” said Jeanine Starcher, who’s the director of Emergency Preparedness, Intensive Care Unit, Trauma Program and the Emergency Department at the hospital. “We don’t have a specialist at our fingertips, and this brings the specialist to us without them having to physically be in the building.”

Before SAM, a possible stroke patient often waited more than two hours to speak with a specialist on the phone. With SAM, a neurologist can speak with a patient on a video chat in roughly 30 minutes, Starcher said.

“With a stroke,” Starcher said, “you have to think time is a huge issue. The longer they go having the symptoms, the more damage is being done, and once you have damage to the brain it’s irreversible.”

When a patient enters the hospital with stroke symptoms, a nurse or ER doctor would evaluate their condition and determine whether to make a ‘Code Stroke’ call, after which there would be a cat scan and a phone call to a team of specialists who are on call.

SAM is around five feet and in action would sit at the end of a hospital bed, with the screen even with a patient’s face. The neurologist can interact with the patient, ER doctor, as well as see images from the cat scan.

The SAM technology has been offered since April 11, as part of the hospital’s merger with McLaren Health Care.

“Actually, we we’re supposed to go live at 8 a.m. that day,” Starcher said. “But we had a possible stroke patient walk in at 7:15, so we went live at 7:15 that day.”

Dr. John Ditchman D.O. has worked with a version of SAM in Lapeer, as well as the robot in Bad Axe. Ditchman said the video conversations with the nine patients that have experienced SAM since it went live in April have reported it being personable.

“It’s an excellent adjunct to patient care,” Ditchman said. “We’re able to provide this quality of care for patients here is phenomenal. We’re a smaller hospital, but having something like this, it’s tremendous.”

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