How telemedicine improves outcomes for stroke patients

(BPT) – Being rushed to the hospital with a stroke is terrifying for patients and their loved ones.

They want and expect the very best care and attention from the hospital staff, so they can be on their way to recovery and head home.

When a family hears a neurologist is available for an immediate evaluation, they are relieved to know they’ll soon have answers. However, they may be surprised when they learn the specialist won’t actually be physically present in the room with the patient, or even in the same hospital building. Instead, the interaction will be through a video screen.

“The heart of their concern is that telemedicine sounds like a low-touch, casual interaction with a patient, and they worry it will be difficult for their loved one to get top-notch care,” says Hammad Shah, CEO of acute telemedicine provider SOC Telemed. “This impression may be colored by prior experience consulting a doctor through a mobile phone app for a routine illness, such as strep or influenza. Such instances of everyday tele-care, while efficient, are only a fraction of what is possible today through in-hospital real-time remote care, or what is better known as acute care telemedicine.”

Shah further explains that teleNeurology, a subset of acute care telemedicine, is a very productive and meaningful way to get stroke patients the care they need, and it often exceeds the expectations of patients and families that encounter it. Using telemedicine, hospitals can provide access to a board-certified, experienced neurologist on the screen in minutes, helping put families at ease during a stressful time.

How does it work? The neurologist interacts with the patient in real time, face to face through a computer screen, usually on a special, movable cart. Neurologists ask questions, ask the patient to perform movements as a part of the evaluation and review any images and insights shared by the hospital medical staff. From there, the onscreen neurologist and onsite medical providers collaborate on the patient’s plan for care.

Why is there a need for telemedicine and why is it helpful to stroke patients? Shah explains the benefits.

It saves valuable minutes

When a patient is experiencing a stroke, every minute matters because of the damage to the brain that occurs. Nearly 800,000 Americans experience a stroke every year, with approximately 133,000 of these cases resulting in death. The faster a patient is seen, the more treatment options are available to potentially save brain function and improve patient outcomes.

In an ideal situation, a stroke patient would see a neurologist within minutes of arriving to the hospital. In reality, those specialists may not be available right away, for multiple reasons. They could be in another part of the hospital treating a patient, they could work in multiple regional hospitals and not be onsite, or they could be off duty at home and need to drive in after hours. All too often there may simply be no neurologist available. In some circumstances, a patient has to be transferred to another facility. That’s especially true for patients at rural hospitals that lack full-time staff neurologists. Transferring patients can substantially delay access to the care those patients need.

However, when a hospital uses a telemedicine solution, patients get a face-to-face real-time video consultation with an experienced, board-certified neurologist in minutes. For example, hospitals that partner with SOC Telemed for teleNeurology experience a median time of 11 minutes between requesting a consultation and having a neurologist on video with the patient. Plus, teleNeurologists see hundreds of patients in a week, across multiple hospitals, which provides a volume of experience neurologists working in one or two hospitals won’t see in a year.

Improved outcomes

One treatment that has been a game-changer for stroke patients is the administration of a tissue plasminogen activator (TPA). TPA breaks up blood clots to the brain, and it’s considered a highly effective treatment to prevent brain injury for stroke patients. Despite that, up to 30 percent of stroke patients do not even receive it, even if they do arrive at the hospital in time and are candidates for the treatment, according to a report from the New York Times. That lack of treatment can lead to paralysis, impaired speech and cognition or even death.

One thing important to understand about TPA is that it must be administered within three to four hours of the onset of stroke. If a patient misses out on the proper evaluation to get that treatment, that window of opportunity is gone. According to the CDC, patients who get to the emergency room within three hours of the onset of symptoms have less disability than those who received delayed care.

That’s where telemedicine can vastly improve outcomes for stroke patients. When patients can get prompt access to a neurologist’s evaluation, they have more treatment options, including not just TPA, but also endovascular surgery to remove the blood clot. More options mean patients have a better chance of recovery from stroke.

Knowing how telemedicine works can help you or your loved one understand how your local hospital is looking out for its patients in the event of stroke. Ask if your local hospital has access to teleNeurology services. For more information about SOC TeleNeurology Solutions, visit