Telemedicine, although not a relatively new phenomenon, emerged in its full form only after the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the world and altered the ways of interaction forever. A number of sectors in healthcare metamorphosed under the disasters of the pandemic, including some critical aspects of stroke care.
Since stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention, how can telestroke help stroke patients, and how does it function? This article aims at answering these very questions. Let’s get into it.
What are Telemedicine and Telestroke?
Telemedicine allows patients and medical professionals to communicate via several platforms, may they be video conferencing, voice calls, or messaging, and devise suitable treatment plans after looking into the symptoms.
Telestroke is a branch of telemedicine that entails remote doctor and remote patient meetings, reducing preventive treatment visits, and continuing post-stroke rehabilitation. It is a convenient arrangement that allows remote stroke specialists to help local emergency physicians monitor patients with suspected strokes to chalk out the treatment and rehabilitation plan.
Telestroke provides a more credible guarantee that stroke patients will receive high-quality care even if they do not receive it from an on-call stroke team in a hospital.
Telestroke is also commonly called stroke telemedicine, and medical professionals with advanced training in stroke treatment use this phenomenon to administer treatment to patients who have had a stroke in other locations. They also collaborate with the patient’s local emergency medicine doctors to devise treatment plans and corroborate the diagnosis.
Stroke telemedicine typically operates on an originating site and distant site system. A large urban medical center (usually certified as a comprehensive or primary stroke center) serves as the distant site or the primary medical center. Smaller regional hospitals and other remote locations serve as the originating sites. Many modes of communication are used for this purpose and include internet telecommunications, robotic telepresence, tablets, digital video cameras, smartphones, and other technologies
It is common for a number of people to work together as a team in telestroke. These team members may include vascular neurologists, program managers, clinical coordinators, radiologists, neurosurgeons at the distant site, and emergency medicine doctors along with the relevant staff at the originating site. Other members such as researchers, nurses, radiology technicians, information technology staff, nurse practitioners, and other staff also play a crucial role in upholding the functions of a telemedicine team.
How can telestroke be of help to patients?
Developed initially to bring stroke specialists into acute care hospitals, telestroke provides medical access to low-income and rural patients who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to consult specialists on site. This primary function and focus of telestroke programs plays a significant role in bringing medical facilities to patients who cannot commute to them. This can be corroborated by a report published in JAMA Neurology in July 2019 that found that less than 40 percent of the approximately 4,500 hospitals in the United States were stroke certified between 2009 and 2017. The hospitals in rural or low-income areas had the slightest chance of getting certified. Therefore, telemedicine enables the residents of such regions to attain access to the highest quality stroke rehabilitation and treatment, right from the comfort of their homes.
What to Expect in a Telestroke Session
Telestroke consultation sessions usually start off with an emergency medicine doctor from your regional hospital (originating source) who thoroughly examines a patient. If the emergency doctor suspects an acute stroke, he/she activates the stroke telemedicine hotline immediately at the distant hospital. Such hospitals have a dedicated and seamless group paging system and hotline with stroke experts available on call 24/7, 365 days a week – even on holidays.
Once the hotline is dedicated, the on-call doctor responds within three to five minutes. The originating hospital also conducts a CT scan, after which the distant hospital’s stroke specialists hold a live, real-time consultation with both audio and video. This allows the stroke specialist to see and hear the patient, review results, consult medical history, and draw out an accurate treatment plan. They may also work with your doctor to choose the most appropriate treatment and share the treatment recommendations to the originating hospital electronically.
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