Potential Benefits Of Telestroke Treatment Availability

Posted on: 9 May 2017

Strokes are the 5th most common cause of death in the United States, with minorities being more likely to suffer from a stroke than whites. This means that an American has a stroke every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the strokes that occur, approximately 87 percent are ischemic strokes in which blood clots block the flow of blood to the brain. This type of stroke can be treated with a medication called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, if the patient is given the medication soon after the onset of symptoms. Time is extremely important when it comes to stroke treatment. This is where telestroke comes in.

Telestroke Basics

Telestroke is a system where doctors in hospitals can teleconference with stroke specialists to determine the best care for stroke patients. Most small hospitals or hospitals in rural areas don't have stroke specialists on staff at all hours, so the availability of this program makes it possible to better treat patients in a timely manner.

Importance of Timing

Every minute that a person's blood flow to the brain is blocked due to a clot causing a stroke, two million brain cells die. The sooner the person is administered tPA to break up these clots, the less damage is done to the brain and the more likely a person is to recover. However, tPA only works if a person gets it within three hours of the start of stroke symptoms, such as a drooping face, weakness in the arms, slurred speech, sudden difficulty seeing or sudden loss of balance. Before telestroke, people often had to wait for treatment until they'd been transferred to a major medical center, which could delay the administration of this lifesaving medication by hours.

Cost Considerations

Adding the telestroke system to a hospital can be expensive, but overall it's been shown to be a cost-saving measure. A 2014 study showed that people who got help through a telestroke network needed $1,500 less medical care than those who didn't over the course of their lives after the stroke, mainly because they didn't need as much in the way of rehabilitation and nursing home care.

Potential Next Steps

Right now, the telestroke program is mainly available in hospitals, but there has been some research into expanding the program availability to mobile stroke treatment units. This can decrease the time that it takes to get a patient to imaging to determine the type of stroke from an average of about 18 minutes to about 13 minutes and the time it takes to get tPA medication to the patient from an average of 58 minutes to about 32 minutes. While these mobile units are feasible according to the study, there are still some kinks to be worked out to make them more cost-effective and accurate.  

For more information about telestroke treatments in your area, check out a company like Telespecialists