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Hoboken, New Jersey, USA – October 31, 2012

After Hurricane Sandy, we heard plenty of stories about heroic first responders from police and fire departments, not to mention the tireless utility crews. But there were plenty of tele-responders, too.

One New Jersey doctor went the extra mile to do a remote presence telestroke consultation – and there’s a man who probably owes him his life.

In the aftermath of Sandy, neurologist Robert Felberg was stuck without power at his Morristown. N.J. home. About the only thing working was his land line, and the call he received was urgent: an elderly patient at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck had just suffered a stroke and the ED doctor needed a teleconsultation.

Although Felberg was only 32 miles from the hospital, it might as well have been 3,000. Downed trees and power lines made travel impossible. So Dr. Felberg jumped in his pickup truck and started zig-zagging through neighbors’ yards. He finally found a strong enough 4G signal to do the teleconsultation. Felberg confirmed the on-site physician’s decision to initiate tPA. Within 48 hours, the patient was doing well enough to be discharged.

The InTouch Telemedicine System can be used from virtually any location.

Both Holy Name and Felberg’s own hospital (Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J.) never lost power during or after the storm because they planned ahead, making sure there was ample power from generators. “If there’s an award for bravery for prevention, these guys should get it,” he said.

That’s a theme echoed in a paper entitled “Tele-ICU During A Disaster” by Dr. H. Neal Reynolds and colleagues that ran in the Nov. 2011 issue of the journal Telemedicine and e-Health. The paper chronicled how an intensivist was able to stay in close communication with on-site hospitalists and nursing staff following a series of blizzards in Baltimore in 2009-10.

The article concludes that if a health system already has a telemedicine network in place, the organization can simply extend those capabilities to disaster support when needed. But the key is to be prepared. If Holy Name hadn’t established a remote presence network in the first place, Dr. Felberg’s gallant efforts would have fallen short.

As police and firefighters know, bravery will only get you so far. Teleheroes – like all first responders – need to be ready in advance.

To read a full account of the story in the New Jersey Star Ledger, click here.

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