Telemedicine Improving Stroke Patients' Survival
And Recovery Rates

By Marianne Kolbasuk McGee of InformationWeek


On average, every 45 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke, the third-leading cause of death as well as the leading cause of permanent disability in the nation, according to the American Heart Association.

The first three hours after a stroke are critical to a patient's survival and recovery. For instance, depending on the type of stroke suffered by a patient, certain drugs can vastly improve the patient's survival and chances for full rehabilitation. Those same drugs, however, can be deadly if given to a patient suffering another type of stroke.

Due in part to a shortage of specialty physicians trained to accurately diagnose and treat stroke victims, not all U.S. hospitals have the expertise and equipment to optimally care for stroke patients, particularly in the critical early hours.

Next month in Massachusetts, and likely in other states, telehealth technologies will begin to help the odds of patients surviving and resuming full functionality after their strokes.

On June 1, the new Neuro Critical Care Center, operated by Brain Saving Technologies Inc. in Wellesley Hills, Mass., will begin to connect emergency-room doctors at a number of suburban hospitals in the state with a remote university hospital that will act as a "hub" with on-call critical-care neurologists who can assist in making remote diagnoses and treatment recommendations for suspected stroke patients, says Stuart Bernstein, CEO and chief operating officer at Brain Saving Technologies.

The Neuro Critical Care Center links emergency-room doctors with the specialists from the hub hospital, UMass Memorial Medical Center, in Worcester, Mass., through a visual-communication workstation that can connect via IP, high-bandwidth communications, or private leased line.

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The workstation allows the remote specialists to examine and talk to patients, and collaborate with on-site doctors to improve timely diagnosis of strokes and optimize treatment options, Bernstein says.

"Our purpose is to provide member hospitals with a major hospital stroke center, 24 by 7," Bernstein says. CT scans--digital images of patient's brains--can also be transmitted from the member hospitals to the Neuro Critical Care Center specialists to improve diagnosis of the patients, he says. The images are seen simultaneously by doctors at both locations so they can collaborate. The technology can also help train emergency-room doctors about what characteristics to look for on the CT scans of stroke patients.

A key component of the Neuro Critical Care Center's offering is the Intern Tele-HealthCare Solution from Tandberg, which provides simultaneous audio and video transmission and bidirectional videoconferencing and image-display capabilities to hub and member hospital doctors. Emergency-room doctors can wheel the mobile Tandberg system to patients' bedsides, Bernstein says.

Tandberg's medical video-communication products are also used in other telehealth applications, including situations where doctors need an expert in sign language or a foreign language to communicate with patients or their family members, says Joe D'Iorio, Tandberg's manager of telehealth. The technology provides "real-time visibility and collaboration to help assess patients' well-being and facilitate real-time interaction," he says.

A Brain Savings Technologies spokeswoman says the cost to patients of the company's Neuro Critical Care Center services "is based on typical critical-care medical consults, which average $500 to $1,000 per insurance claim."

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