Nearly 800,000 Americans will have a stroke this year. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. Stroke is one of our nation’s leading causes of death and severe, long-term disability. WVU Stroke Center neurologist Amelia Adcock, MD explains why telestroke is a valuable way to treat stroke patients.
What is telestroke?
Telestroke is a virtual consultation with a neurologist that provides quick stroke treatment to remote areas. Many small, rural hospitals lack specialists, and telestroke allows much of that needed care to be delivered through the use of simple applications that are very similar to FaceTime or Skype with extra precautions built in to maintain privacy.
Why is telestroke important?
If stroke strikes when you happen to be far away from a hospital with a dedicated center for acute stroke care (most of West Virginia), you simply do not have the time to travel and must instead go to your local hospital. During a stroke, the brain is deprived of oxygen, so a person’s ability to speak, walk, feel, or move a limb is affected, and millions of brain cells die with each passing minute. The best chance at recovery means being evaluated and treated as soon as possible.
Using video conferencing, telestroke brings a specialist with neurologic expertise to the patient’s bedside. With a single phone call, doctors in the local emergency department can quickly connect with a WVU Medicine stroke specialist who has the ability to see and interact with the patient and their family directly. Without losing precious minutes, we can accurately diagnose and treat acute ischemic stroke before transferring a stroke patient to another hospital.
What treatment do patients receive with telestroke?
A WVU Medicine stroke specialist can help guide local emergency department staff through evaluation and procedures if needed. The only FDA-approved treatment for acute ischemic stroke is the clot-busting drug known as tissue plasminogen activator or tPA, which is administered intravenously or combined with direct clot removal using small tools guided through the groin by a specially-trained physician.
What are other benefits of telestroke?
Telestroke is only one component of the telemedicine umbrella. As our program grows, we hope to provide the same type of access to expertise across multiple specialties so that patients beyond stroke victims can benefit. The use of this technology is not limited to the emergency room or even acute care. We can utilize telemedicine to connect with patients who live far away or are too ill to travel. We also offer the opportunity to participate with our stroke support groups virtually from a patient’s own home or local hospital.
Our ability to expand access to state-of-the-art stroke care to all West Virginians continues as we mark the fifth year of the WVU telestroke program. Currently, we serve several counties in West Virginia and one in western Maryland with plans on the horizon to increase our partnerships throughout the region.