Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 17, 2013

New Remote Presence Technology Allows Robots to Guide Nurses in Programming Brain, Spine Stimulators

With the rapidly expanding use of brain and spinal cord stimulation therapy (neuromodulation), new "remote presence" technologies may help to meet the demand for experts to perform stimulator programming remotely. This especially includes robotics.

The January issue of Neurosurgery, the official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, has reported a study highlighting the capabilities of a remote presence robot.

The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a division of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The preliminary study by Ivar Mendez of Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, supports the feasibility and safety of using a remote presence robot, called the "RP-7," to increase access to specialists qualified to program the brain and spine stimulators used in neuromodulation.

The study indicates that Mendez and his group developed the RP-7 as a way of enabling experts to "telementor" non-expert nurses in programming stimulator devices. Neuromodulation is widely used for Parkinson's disease and severe chronic pain, and is now being extended for use in other conditions, such as epilepsy, severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The therapy uses a small electrode that is surgically placed in a precise location in the brain or spine. A mild electrical current is delivered to stimulate that area, with the goal of interrupting abnormal activity.

As more patients undergo brain and spine stimulation therapy, there's a growing demand for experts to program the stimulators that generate the electrical current.

According to the Journal, the RP-7 is a mobile, battery-powered robot that can be controlled using a laptop computer. It is equipped with digital cameras and microphones, allowing the expert, nurse and patient to communicate.

The robot's "head" consists of a flat screen monitor that displays the face of the expert operator. Similarly, the root’s "arm" is equipped with a touchscreen programmer, which the nurse can use to program the stimulator.

Analysis of 20 patients (10 in each group) shows that there was no significant difference in the accuracy or clinical outcomes of remote-presence versus conventional programming. In fact, no adverse events occurred with either type of programming session.

Edited by Braden Becker

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