'Game changer': New technology allows doctors at Rush to treat patients remotely

Telemedicine takes the leap to the next level, as new technology allows doctors to see patients remotely and treat them as well.

It's called the Neurosphere Virtual Clinic, developed by Abbott Labs and being used at Rush University Medical Center.

With an iPad at Rush, a neurologist can adjust the implant in his patient’s brain, even though she’s miles away in the suburbs.

"I think this is a game changer," said Dr. Leonard Verhagen, director of the Movement Disorder Interventional Program and professor of neurosciences at Rush University Medical Center.

Think of the Neurosphere Virtual Clinic as a really advanced app where doctors and patients connect remotely to manage movement disorders or chronic pain, that are treated with an implant in their brain or spinal cord.

FOX 32 watched how Parkinson’s patient Tricia O’Neill had a tremor in her arm at her home in Hinsdale.

Back at Rush, Dr. Verhagen adjusted an implant in O’Neill’s brain – what’s called deep brain stimulation – and the tremor ebbed.

Before this advancement, O’Neill would  have had to drive to Rush every few months for these adjustments, taking a half-day off work.

"Now, if I need a tweak to my adjustments I just dial in, it is like a telehealth and just 15 minutes I can do it from my office even," said O'Neill.

"It is a telehealth solution, but it’s beyond telehealth," said Dr. Binith Cheeran, Director of Medical Affairs at Abbott Labs.


Dr. Cheeran says this technology developed at Abbott Labs is the next step because it allows doctors to talk to their patients remotely and treat them as well.

"It is truly a one of its kind technology, and hugely impactful for people with Parkinson's disease, essential tremor and chronic pain conditions, and there are tens of millions of Americans with these conditions today," Cheeran said.

Dr. Verhagen has been using deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s for years, with patients braving the notorious Chicago traffic, as they travel hundreds of miles for the specialized care.

"They don't mind if they have to come maybe once or twice and get maybe the surgery done here, but then if they know that it can be going on and be programmed from a distance at home, that is really a big step forward, I think," Verhagen said.

It is likely the first step of many leaps for health care technology.

"Healthcare is still a little bit analog, and we need to make it a little bit more digital to fit in more with our modern lives," Dr. Cheeran said.

But the future is uncertain.

Telehealth, including this technology, is currently covered by insurance in Illinois, due to a pandemic emergency order. That expires soon, and lawmakers in Springfield continue to debate making telehealth coverage permanent when the state reopens.