New robot in neuromodulatory programming

A preliminary feasibility study has suggested that ‘remote-presence’ robots could be used to give brain and spine neuromodulation patients remote access to experts. The study, published in ‘Neurosurgery’ this month, was led by Dr Ivar Mendez of Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It investigated whether experts could successfully guide nurses in correctly programming patients’ neuromodulators via a remote-presence robot, the RP-7.

Brain and spinal cord stimulation therapy is a form of neuromodulation which uses surgically implanted electrodes to modify errant activity and treat nervous system disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain. The stimulators must be programmed, a task normally performed by an expert. However, the rapidly expanding use of neuromodulation to treat conditions such as severe depression and epilepsy means trained programmers of the devices are struggling to match the demand.

This study randomly assigned 10 patients with neuromodulators to a remote access group and 10 to a conventional programming group (i.e. the expert present in the room). 10 nurses with no previous experience of stimulator programming were then ‘telementored’ via the RP-7, a mobile remote presence robot, with a screen displaying the expert and microphones for communication via a wireless internet connection. The study found no significant difference in clinical outcome and no adverse effects in either group.

This suggests a role for ‘telemedicine’ in delivering a high level of care to patients using remote-presence technologies by allowing wider access to specialists.

About Aishling Cooke

Aishling is a second year undergraduate studying Biomedical Science at St Anne's.