Telemedicine Made Personal

Most televised reunions are gimmicky and superficial, but there was nothing trivial about the reunion of Sandra Bowden and Todd Samuels, M.D., at this year’s American Telemedicine Association (ATA) annual meeting in Tampa.

What the “Human Touch of Telemedicine” conference video crew captured that day was a vision of our medical future: a teleneurology advocate and stroke patient from Texarkana, Texas, getting to meet the neurologist who assessed her from his office in Baltimore, Maryland—and helped improve her outcome and recovery time. Here, in her own words, is Sandra Bowden’s account of her very personal introduction to the benefits of teleneurology.

Telemedicine Made Personal

There are many ironic moments in life, but few that compare to my stroke assessment last year.

I am director of medical post-surgical services at Christus St. Michael Health System in Texarkana, Texas—a city perhaps best known for being the hometown of one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot. Although our facility includes a 312-bed acute care hospital, Texarkana is still a fairly small city—ranking 288th in the latest U.S. census. We don’t have as many local neurologists to call as do hospitals in Boston or Los Angeles. For that reason, teleneurology has played a key role in our hospital’s campaign to become a certified stroke center.

In 2010, during an early morning meeting with the Christus stroke team, I began to feel a tingling sensation in my ear and face. It spread down my left arm, and a colleague noticed that the left side of my face was starting to droop. She quickly escorted me to the ER, where the doctor ordered a CT scan. By the time I returned to the ER, Specialists On Call, our recently implemented teleneurology provider, had been notified and neurologist Todd Samuels was speaking with my physician.

With the help of the attending nurse, Dr. Samuels began a complete neurological assessment. Throughout the entire consultation, I was the center of his attention. He answered all the questions my husband and I had, and made us both feel comfortable during a very difficult time.

Dr. Samuels told me that he believed I was having a stroke that would respond well to the clot-busting drug called tPA. He also explained the risks and benefits of the therapy. I assumed he would order the drug and be done, but he stayed and checked in on me. In a short time, I started having resolution of my symptoms—and Dr. Samuels seemed very pleased with the outcome.

I was soon transferred to the ICU, where my condition steadily improved. The left side of my face continued to droop for a few days, and I had some minor issues with gait and balance. But physical therapy resolved those conditions, and today I live a normal life with no deficits.

So when I attended the ATA annual meeting earlier this year, I had no idea that I would be meeting Dr. Samuels in person. It was a complete surprise to me. I knew I’d never forget his face, and it was wonderful to express in person how grateful I was. I couldn’t have asked for higher quality care.

I have long been a teleneurology advocate, but it wasn’t until I was the recipient of this innovative approach to care that I completely understood its importance. This is the way that medicine is going. We already have far too few specialists to meet the growing needs of people in areas of the country like mine. But I’ve experienced first-hand how teleneurology can help solve the specialist shortage and offer wonderful, life-saving care. After my encounter with SOC, I more firmly than ever see telemedicine as the wave of the future.

–Sandra Bowden, RN-BC, MSN