When it comes to treating a stroke, every second counts.
That’s why University of Minnesota Health is implementing leading-edge “Telestroke” technology at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. The system provides instantaneous communication between the two emergency departments on the medical center campus and M Health neurologists who specialize in stroke treatment. This will further decrease response times for stroke care, improving the outcomes for our patients.
“The treatments we offer for stroke are quite effective, but we’re dealing with seconds and minutes,” said Neurologist Mustapha Ezzeddine, MD, director of the M Health stroke treatment program. “There aren’t enough stroke neurology specialists to staff emergency departments 24/7.”
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted—either because of an obstruction in the brain’s blood vessels that reduces blood flow, or because bleeding into the brain itself due to a ruptured blood vessel.
Without proper blood flow, brain cells quickly begin to die. The longer it takes for treatment to begin, the greater a patient’s risk of permanent disability or death.
Six months ago, M Health introduced a sophisticated, two-way audio and video system. Stroke victims brought to either of the university’s emergency departments can be immediately connected with Ezzeddine or one of his fellow specialists, who can quickly determine what sort of drugs (or in some cases, which endovascular or surgical procedure) will be most effective, even if they are across campus or at home at the time.
“I don’t even have to be in my office,” Ezzeddine said. “We have software that allows us to log in from the office, from the hospital and from my home. And we’ll soon be able to do this from a computer tablet.” This will enable our neurologists to respond no matter their location.
Telestroke technology isn’t just a simple two-way television; doctors have the ability to manipulate the camera position remotely—which helps when diagnosing stroke symptoms—and can review the results of brain-imaging tests conducted in the emergency department.
The benefits of the program have been immediately apparent, Ezzeddine said. He recently diagnosed a patient with a minor stroke; that patient had been in another emergency department outside the M Health system with a seizure six months earlier, and had to wait six hours before seeing a neurologist. At M Health, he was talking to Ezzeddine just five minutes after being admitted.
Telestroke technology has been so successful, Ezzeddine added, that expansion plans are already under way.
“The program will be even more efficient and effective when we create a system-wide, stroke telemedicine program in all M Health emergency departments. We want to be able to treat patients who come into Fairview Southdale or Fairview Ridges emergency departments in exactly the same way.”
And Ezzeddine said the program may be expanded into the treatment of other neurological issues. In the future, patients brought to emergency departments with spinal cord injuries, seizures and brain trauma could also benefit from the sort of quick specialist review now being offered in cases of stroke.“This is really just the first step in doing more things with remote technology,” Ezzeddine said. “Neurological emergency in general is an area where this makes a lot of sense.”