Telemedicine Helps Experts Treat Stroke From Afar

AHA recommendations aim to improve care in underserved patients

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THURSDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Examining stroke patients via videoconferencing (telemedicine) is as effective as a bedside exam and can increase patient access to stroke specialists, says a scientific statement released Thursday by the American Heart Association.

Stroke patients require rapid assessment in order to determine if they're eligible for time-sensitive treatments such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which can save brain function and reduce stroke-related disability, the AHA explained in a news release.

These patient evaluations often need to be done by stroke and brain imaging specialists, but there are only about four neurologists per 100,000 people in the United States, and not all neurologists specialize in stroke, according to the statement.

Telemedicine -- which uses interactive videoconferencing via webcams connected to a computer or television screen -- enables distant stroke experts to see and hear patients, family members and on-site health care providers. Telestroke technology along with teleradiology allows distant doctors to review a patient's brain images.

This technology offers a cost-effective and time-efficient method of extending the reach of neurologists.

"Telemedicine is an effective avenue to eliminate disparities in access to acute stroke care, erasing the inequities introduced by geography, income or social circumstance," scientific statement lead author Dr. Lee Schwamm, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and vice chairman of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in the news release.

The scientific statement appears in the May 7 issue of the journal Stroke.

Certain policy changes are needed in order to make this type of telemedicine effective, Schwamm said. These include:

  • Deployment of telestroke systems to bolster resources where 24-hour, local, on-site stroke expertise is insufficient.
  • Increased Medicare reimbursement for telestroke assessment, diagnosis and tPA use to reflect the greater costs of implementation.
  • Development of a mechanism whereby credentialing for telestroke providers and national telestroke licensing by state medical boards is uniform and streamlined.
  • Increased funding sources for telestroke programs.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about stroke prevention and treatment.

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