AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Long Distance Learning

Along with other massive changes brought on by the increasing power and reach of the internet, the past decade has seen a drastic increase in the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees attained online. Today, more than 12,000 different “digital degrees” can be obtained from accredited U.S. universities, a figure that has grown by double digits annually for the last five years.

While the growth of the internet has enabled a plethora of such ‘distance learning’ opportunities for collegiate education, new technologies and practices in telemedicine are simultaneously reinventing the approach to professional education in hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world.

The educational aspects of telehealth programs demand the least effort and level of investment of any implementation of the discipline, but the benefits of adoption are immense, and can serve as the building blocks for increased engagement down the road.

Telemedicine actually allows hospitals to bring the education directly into the facility, offering professional training directly from the experts on the newest procedures and protocols, as well as serving as a 24/7 resource always available for consultation.  Bringing this type of program into a hospital not only helps administrators, physicians, nurses, and staff better perform their jobs and offer patients a better standard of care, but also creates champions of the telemedicine services, opening the door to a healthcare ecosystem that is far more responsive to innovation.

Introducing telemedicine to healthcare facilities through educational initiatives is also a great way to align the goals of the hospital and the provider to foster stronger relationships for the future. The facility wants to offer top quality care within the confines of a tightening budget, and the provider wants to help its client hospital save lives while reducing spending in the process to demonstrate its competitive advantage. The educational process is a great way to interface with the effective and efficient solutions that telehealth can offer. It is a major step towards a future where all hospitals have access to the resources they need to operate equally efficiently; a win for patient and provider alike.



Investing in People

Telemedicine has garnered more attention as of late as a truly game-changing emerging field on the cutting edge of healthcare. Perceptions of the field have become increasingly favorable, but there is still a long road ahead to becoming part of the mainstream lexicon of medicine for patients and providers.

Presently, one of the most significant barriers to entry for new companies in telemedicine is the level of investment required on the part of potential client facilities. Revolutionary technology does not typically come cheap, and as healthcare spending continues to swell (albeit at a slower rate than previously), most facilities are working diligently to combat rising costs rather than add new programs to already bloated budgets.

The good news is that practical new technologies, regardless of how disruptive or expensive at the outset, have a habit of eventually finding their way into adoption. A common adage proclaims that every few years, the power of technology doubles and its price tag is halved. This implies that facilities which have temporarily chosen to forego the extensive advantages that telemedicine programs offer based upon steep startup costs will ultimately find the same solutions to be far more cost effective in the not-too-distant future. However, late adopters of telemedicine services do run the risk of losing their competitive edge. This is especially true in light of the rapid changes ahead in the healthcare landscape; the integration of telemedicine can make a hospital more independent of, or attractive to, consolidation by larger healthcare systems, depending on the goals of the client.

When considering teleneurology as a discipline in particular, hospitals must recognize that an investment in telemedicine is far more than an investment in the newest, best equipment; it is the foundation of a relationship with physicians who are among the most knowledgeable and experiences practitioners in their field. AcuteCare Telemedicine is truly technology- agnostic, meaning that regardless of the price tag of the machines that we leverage to connect with a facility’s patients or staff, a partnership with our physicians means that behind the machinery is the expertise needed to drastically improve the quality of care a patient can receive. We place value in finding quality tools to accomplish our mission, but our accessibility is by no means restricted by them.

Many healthcare leaders are still hesitant to make the investment in something new, but the time has come that the highest level of expert care be available to everyone, everywhere. It is our vision that hospital facilities will share in our agnosticism towards technology and invest in the people who will improve healthcare’s next generation.



Telemedicine in the Wake of Natural Disaster

As October 2012 came to a close, the arrival of Hurricane Sandy served as a haunting reminder that we can never underestimate the destructive and disruptive power of nature. The “superstorm” wreaked havoc on some of the most populous areas in the United States, not just causing billions in physical damage, but severely testing our infrastructure and its vital role in our society.

Considering the major implications that storms or other disaster events on this scale have for the healthcare industry, the days leading up to, during, and following Sandy were a demanding exercise in preparation, planning, and execution. The storm left countless citizens in need of medical attention, and threatened the adequate treatment of those already receiving care.

As one major resource put under the stresses of a disaster-level storm, hospitals and other healthcare facilities quickly became incapacitated by overcrowding, understaffing, a broken supply chain, and in select cases, power failures that crippled essential equipment. A small contingency of Mobile ERs were dispatched across the region, but a lack of pure manpower hindered the effectiveness of the efforts. Despite their mobility, the interrupted transportation systems within the affected communities prevented many from reaching the help they sorely needed.

Telehealth is an ideal candidate for addressing the challenges of these kinds of circumstances. The infrastructure of telemedicine is capable of delivering expert direction and attentive care to victims of natural disasters. The question of manpower becomes a negligible issue, as doctors and other respondents can call in from anywhere, and thanks to ever increasing internet access, the reach of the care administration is not limited by the victims’ location.

If emergency management agencies and telecommunications service providers are willing to work hand in hand with healthcare professionals, we now have the tools and knowledge to ensure that in future disaster scenarios, people can always have the support they need.



Stroke Mimics in the Emergency Setting

The role of the neurologist in treatment of acute stroke often focuses on the decision to use clot busting medication (tissue plasminogen activator; tPA), recommending care setting (e.g. ICU vs routine admission) based on patient deficits and prognosis, and of course, patient education in the midst of this emotionally charged experience. However, an often overlooked mandate for the neurologist is the proper recognition of stroke itself. Dr. J. Stephen Huff, Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Virginia, provides a clear and comprehensive review of what are termed stroke “mimics” – disorders which may appear to be a stroke, but are not.

Stroke, broadly defined, is any prolonged disruption of focal neurologic function due to decreased blood flow from blood clotting in a specific region of brain. If that disruption is transient or intermittent it is typically referred to as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). If brain function is disrupted by a cause other than a blood clot, treatment with tPA may not only lack benefit but expose the patient to unnecessary harm. Recognition of “stroke syndromes” that result from specific artery involvement is the bread and butter of neurology. The abrupt onset of aphasia (language deficit) and right sided weakness almost certainly indicates a patient has blocked their left middle cerebral artery. Blocking this same artery on the right results in the classic presentation of left sided weakness and “neglect,” an inability to recognize one’s own physical deficits. In either case, the immediate administration of tPA can be life-saving.

Other disorders may cause brain dysfunction unrelated to a blood clot. This is the case in approximately 13-20% of patients presenting with presumed stroke. If the duration of symptoms is unclear, this number may even be as high as 30%. The most common mimic is seizure. Excessive electrical and chemical brain activity may result in focal weakness (Todd’s paralysis) and other deficits. If the seizure was not witnessed (especially in patients with previous stroke as the cause of seizures), excluding an acute stroke can be difficult. Focal neurologic injury from brain tumor, inflammation (e.g. multiple sclerosis), or even peripheral nerve palsy may be mistaken for stroke.

Stroke can be mimicked without direct injury to the brain. The most common mimic in this category is a complex migraine in which visual disturbance, weakness, numbness and even aphasia can occur. Hypoglycemia or, less often, hyperglycemia (low and high blood sugar) can cause general symptoms of lethargy or coma, but focal brain dysfunction (particularly weakness) often occurs and can outlast normalization of blood glucose. Finally, 30% of patients presenting with psychiatric causes of physical illness (i.e. conversion disorder) exhibit neurologic deficits, typically weakness.

Determining the cause of a patient’s deficits can sometimes be accomplished in an emergency setting through the use of CT imaging and appropriate diagnostic tests. Often the results of serial examinations, detailed history and, increasingly, advances in MR imaging can eventually lead to the correct diagnosis. However, certain diagnoses, notably migraine and conversion, are diagnoses of exclusion, so repeated events and extensive negative testing may be required for confirmation.

Among patients presenting with neurologic deficits, emergency department physicians correctly identify stroke before applying diagnostic studies in about 75% of cases. This means as many as 1 in 4 cases are incorrectly diagnosed. It is the role of stroke experts, like those of AcuteCare Telemedicine, to quickly and accurately determine the likely cause of neurologic deficits, the risks and benefits of multiple treatment options and convey a plan of action simply yet fully to the patient and loved ones. It is a difficult but rewarding task.