AN 81-YEAR-OLD stroke patient has been been saved from severe disability thanks to the innovative work of a "robot" 80km away.
The woman -- who was rushed to Mullingar Hospital in Co Westmeath on Sunday morning after suffering a stroke at Mass -- became the first patient in Ireland to be given clot-busting drugs under the video guidance of a specialist located in Tallaght Hospital in Dublin.
Stroke physician Des O'Neill, who was on duty in Dublin at the time, was able to see the patient and assess her condition using a two-way audio and video link, called an RP-7 telemedicine robot.
It meant the woman was able to be given drugs by doctors in Mullingar who were expertly guided by Prof O'Neill after he assessed her brain scan and other symptoms.
Prof O'Neill said last night it was believed the woman's level of disability had been halved as a result of getting the treatment on time.
The technological breakthrough means that patients who are admitted with a stroke to Tallaght Hospital, Naas General Hospital and Mullingar General Hospital will have access to a specialist stroke physician at evenings and weekends if the resident doctor is off duty.
Prof Sean Murphy, a stroke physician in Mullingar, said the technology could be accessed wherever the doctor is on duty. He can dial into the robot using a wireless internet connection.
"You can see and talk to the patient and the patient can see the doctor," he said. The new system is part of a pilot project.
Prof O'Neill said around 85pc of strokes were caused by a clot but the physician needed to assess the patient before giving the clot-busting therapy.
"The skill is to decide that it is a stroke," he said. "As a result of the technology, it is possible to examine the patient's brain scan," he added.
Clot-busting drugs work in around 20pc to 25pc of patients and can be crucial in reducing the level of disability they suffer.
Around 7,000 people suffer a stroke in Ireland every year.