(RxWiki News) Recent research has shown that telestroke improves patient survival, reduces disability and trims healthcare costs. Yet a national report indicates that the technology remains underused.
The use of telestroke -- similar to a two-way Skype session between a neurologist at a specialized stroke center and emergency room doctors in rural or underserved areas -- has been increasing, but few Canadian stroke patients are receiving the life-saving service.
"Call 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect a stroke."
Mark Bisby, MA, D.Phil, an independent consultant commissioned by the Canadian Stroke Network to study telestroke services in Canada, said that the case for widespread use of telestroke is urgent and compelling. Dr. Bisby, the former vice president of research for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, said Canadians should be bothered that telestroke is lacking in most parts of the country, including those that need it most.
Researchers followed 12 stroke neurologists working in regional stroke centers from 2010 to 2011. During the one-year study period the doctors treated 450 patients from 17 referring hospitals.
Neurologists and back-up neurologists were accessible 24 hours a day during the study period with access to telestroke technology at home or at the hospital.
Investigators found that 42 percent of transferred stroke patients who arrived at the hospital within three and a half hours received clot-busting drugs. The medication must be administered quickly -- within three and a half hours -- to be effective. At regional stroke centers, 48 percent of stroke patients arriving within the same time frame received clot busters.
Previous research has shown that patients in rural or underserved hospitals can receive the same quality of care as going to a stroke center if telestroke is utilized. Patients treated at stroke centers and patients treated through telestroke have been found to receive clot-busting drugs at the same rate.
In Canada, only Alberta and Ontario have widespread telestroke programs, and the results have been dramatic. Substantially fewer patients have died and they are less likely to have lingering disabilities.
"Research into telestroke has shown increased access to the clot-dissolving drug tPA that can reduce stroke damage," said Ian Joiner, BScPT, MPA, the director of stroke for Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation. "We owe it to all Canadians to look at how best to integrate such innovative services into existing stroke networks and systems."
The report was presented today at the Canadian Stroke Congress in Calgary, a joint initiative of the Canadian Stroke Network, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Canadian Stroke Consortium.