TAMPA, FL — The moment was a bit corny, along the lines of one of those “reveals” at the end of a TV reality show, enough so that Fox News sent a video crew to the American Telemedicine Association’s 2011 Annual meeting and shot some footage. But it was mostly sweet and poignant to see Sandra Bowden, a stroke nurse at Christus St. Michael Health System in Texarkana, Texas meet — in person, for the first time — neurologist Dr. Todd Samuels.
See, a few years ago Bowden advocated for her facility to set up a telestroke service in which emergency neurologists — specialists that the facility had little local access to — could be summoned remotely through Specialists on Call. The company serves hundreds of hospitals in 17 states (the department that administers credentials for the company’s physicians is the biggest and busiest, not surprisingly — considering the variance of laws between states), and provides consultation services in many specialties including stroke care, psychiatry and pediatrics.
Then, last year, Bowden became a patient herself when symptoms made it obvious during a meeting at work that she was experiencing a stroke. After quickly being admitted to the hospital, she credits Samuels’ one-on-one remote video presence — in consultation with Bowden and her caregivers on site during the ordeal — for saving her life and minimizing brain damage that could have been much more severe.
Yet she never got to meet in person the neurologist on the other end of the line, who treated her out of his home office in Baltimore. Here at ATA 2011, the connection was finally made — a surprise to her, although ATA tipped off the media via email.
“I really never had an expectation that I would ever meet him,” said a beaming Bowden, flanked by Samuels and her husband Bill in an interview with SearchHealthIT at the Specialists on Call booth after the big meeting. “I was just…always grateful, I knew I’d never forget his face.”
“As a physician, yeah you treat a lot of patients,” Samuels said. “But [meeting Bowden] really does mean a lot to me.”
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more content about the advancement of telemedicine in general, and telestroke in particular. Those stories will tackle heady topics of technology, credentialing obstacles to delivering services and payer reimbursement problems. Like a lot of the topics explored in breakout sessions and at booths in the expiation hall, those tend to be more technically oriented and less…human.
Bowden’s story shows the payoff to all the vendor hype, giving attendees (and the reporters covering the conference) a face to associate with all these cold hard technologies and the favorable — but still cold and hard — numbers they generate for medical leaders and hospital bean counters. Unlike a lot of other messages that talked about this product’s potential to save lives or that vendor’s potential to reduce costs of care and save the American health care system yada yada yada, Sandra Bowden’s message was real. And clear: Telemedicine can save lives. She’s living, walking, breathing proof.