The Physician Spotlight Series is an opportunity to highlight the value and expertise of VirtualMed Staff’s team of physicians. Throughout this series, our goal is to share our physicians’ stories, their journeys with telemedicine, and detail the value and benefits that telemedicine offers to patients across the country.
Is it possible to bridge the gap between vitally important access to neurologists, despite the limited supply available? That’s exactly the problem that Dr. Mark Borsody and the non-profit NeuroSpring aim to solve through their artificial intelligence-assisted Virtual Neurologist.
The lack of available neurologists in the United States means only a minority of the 5,700 hospitals can effectively treat stroke patients. Even more alarming, only about half of the population live close enough to hospitals staffed by neurologists to receive time-sensitive, life-saving treatment for neurological emergencies.
“There’s no way we will ever have enough neurologists to meet the demand, not just in the United States, but across the world,” says Dr. Borsody. “I see this research and non-profit not as a passion project, but as my duty to help patients during a neurological emergency.”
Dr. Borsody is a neurologist with VirtualMed Staff who currently supports several teleneurology programs across the country. We were fortunate to speak with Dr. Borsody and Grace Montenegro, the Project Manager at NeuroSpring, to learn more about Dr. Borsody’s early interest in telemedicine and how that led to the creation of NeuroSpring and the Virtual Neurologist.
The early days of teleneurology that led to the birth NeuroSpring
Dr. Borsody’s interest in telemedicine and video conferencing uses for Neurology started in the early 2000’s while in residency at the Detroit Medical Center in Michigan. There, he would routinely encounter patients who traveled hours to meet with a neurologist, bypassing several smaller hospitals along the way. “It’s such a long state. We had patients coming all the way from the Upper Peninsula,” says Dr. Borsody. “That’s easily a 10-hour drive, or longer.”
At the time, telemedicine equipment was expensive and internet capabilities were limited, which made building telemedicine programs difficult and costly. Despite these challenges, Dr. Borsody and a small group of neurologists established a charity organization in 2005 called NeuroSpring to lay the groundwork for a teleneurology network in Michigan.
“It initially started with the goal of providing telestroke services,” says Dr. Borsody, “But the program evolved and prepared the way for the Michigan Stroke Network that operated out of the Providence System in Detroit.”
Understanding that there would never be enough neurologists to address the needs of patients around the world, NeuroSpring expanded its mission and focused on solving the problem of how to deliver neurological care, despite the limited availability of neurologists. With an initial team of four, NeuroSpring began development on the Virtual Neurologist.
NeuroSpring and the Virtual Neurologist
The goal of NeuroSpring and the Virtual Neurologist is simple: To build a downloadable app or computer program that would provide patients with a neurologist diagnosis service anywhere, at any time. “The supply of neurologists will never meet the demand,” says Dr. Borsody. “This will help bridge that gap.”
Utilizing artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP), the Virtual Neurologist acts, in many ways, like a real-life neurologist; if a patient is suspected of suffering from a neurological emergency, the Virtual Neurologist will ask a series of symptom related questions, process the responses, and then provide a clinical diagnosis. “It asks the same questions a neurologist would ask, except it’s virtual,” says Dr. Borsody.
One specific use that NeuroSpring is planning to target is utilizing the Virtual Neurologist in an ambulance setting. “Time is critical in a neurological emergency,” says Grace Montenegro, Project Manager for the Virtual Neurologist. “We wanted to make use of this transportation time in the ambulance to diagnose the patient so they can begin receiving treatment immediately upon arrival at the hospital.”
The use of digital tools and artificial intelligence in healthcare has been growing steadily over the last few years. In fact, in 2019, nearly a third of physicians reported using some form of artificial intelligence in their practices. “The future of healthcare will be technology working hand-in-hand with the medical team,” says Grace. “And the Virtual Neurologist will be able to do that not only in ambulances, but for small and rural hospitals that lack a neurologist, as well.”
In terms of a timeline for mainstream deployment and utilization, Grace says that the team is working diligently, but there isn’t a definitive delivery date yet. “We’re very passionate about this project and trying to have the Virtual Neurologist ready as soon as possible,” says Grace. As a non-profit organization, much of the funding relies on donations, which can hinder research and development, but Grace says, “We’re doing our best because this is something that people need.”
Passions beyond telemedicine
For many physicians who pursue telemedicine, the passion for providing care virtually is born out of a desire to help patients whenever and wherever it’s needed. For Dr. Borsody, that passion led him even further. By developing a Virtual Neurologist with Grace Montenegro and the rest of the NeuroSpring team, neurological care being provided where it otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
“People used to have no other choice but to drive hours to receive neurological care,” says Dr. Borsody. “Now, with telemedicine, and in the future through the work of NeuroSpring, care could be instantaneous and everywhere.”
As a valued member of VirtualMed Staff’s team of virtual physicians, we’re thankful to Dr. Borsody for allowing us to share his story and look forward to sharing more in the future. To learn more about Neuro Spring and donate to the development of the Virtual Neurologist, please visit: https://www.neurospring.org/.