TeleStroke units work to increase stroke care in rural areas



As strokes continue to be one of the most concerning health issues in the U.S., new ways of teaching prevention methods and spreading treatment awareness remain a top priority.

As strokes continue to be one of the most concerning health issues in the U.S., new ways of teaching prevention methods and spreading treatment awareness remain a top priority. Prescription medications such as Lipitor are generally the best way to reduce stroke risk, but geographical location can have a large impact on emergency care response time. New technology may soon be available to help educate those far away from hospitals and doctors on what they need to do in the event of a stroke.

Research published in the medical journal Stroke detailed how new telecommunication units designed to connect stroke patients in rural areas with medical experts is efficient in improving stroke care. The study was the biggest evaluation of telemedicine for stroke, taking place in Bavaria, Germany, a state known for its vast landscapes and stretches of uninhabited terrain.

These TeleStroke units provided patients staying in older, regional hospitals, that typically do not have the access or connections to new and improved stroke-saving technology, with around-the-clock access to leading medical experts. In addition to advice whenever needed, study participants could even provide vascular neurologists with evaluation of brain imaging as well as exam results through videoconferencing communication.

For a decade, researchers analyzed how the TeleStroke units impacted stroke care within the region. Some of the key findings included:

  • Patients receiving the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) for ischemic stroke rose from 2.6 to 15.5 percent.
  • The median time between onset of stroke symptoms and receiving tPA fell from 150 to 120 minutes.
  • Average time between a patient's arrival at a regional hospital until tPA was administered fell from 80 to 40 minutes.

When the TeleStroke units were first introduced to Bavaria, they were administered to 12 hospitals that lacked neurology and neurosurgery departments. This form of telemedicine was able to instantly connect them with two neurological stroke centers with neurological experts, and within the next 10 years, 15 TeleStroke units had been installed that had provided 31,864 consultations. By the end of 2012, the percentage of stroke patients who had received treatment from hospitals with telemedicine units rose from 19 to 78 percent.

Dr. Peter Müller-Barna, a consultant in the department of neurology at the Agatharied Hospital in Hausham, Germany, and lead study author, stressed how important these telecommunication devices are to improve all forms of medical care in hospitals that lack certain important departments.

"Telemedicine is a wonderful option to support the close cooperation of physicians from regional hospitals and tertiary stroke centers," Müller-Barna said in a statement. "Telemedicine can accelerate the emergency transfer of patients in need of neurosurgery. At the same time, it helps avoid unnecessary transfers because expert vascular neurologists are involved in remote patient assessment by video examination and the interpretation of CT scans."

Preventing stroke
The biggest stroke prevention factors start with knowing whether you're at risk. There are all types of traits and habits that people either have control of or don't, but they both can play into an increased likelihood of stroke occurrence. According to the National Institutes of Health, the following conditions are clear risk factors for stroke:

  • High blood pressure measured at 130/80 millimeters of mercury or higher
  • Diabetics
  • Heavy smokers
  • Family history of stroke
  • Obesity and unhealthy diet

If you feel you could be at risk for suffering a stroke, consult with your physician about a prescription to Lipitor, a medication that is dedicated to fighting off symptoms of stroke.