AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


A Moment of Clarity

In order to make true progress in any industry, there must first be a clear vision, with goals and milestones laid out to define the path forwards. For telehealth, this vision must be extremely fluid, due to the constant introduction of new technologies and new research findings shaping best practices for successful implementation.

2012 was an important year, with new developments in government regulation shaping policy and procedure as well as a great deal of newsmedia coverage of the benefits of telehealth programs for healthcare systems and the patients they serve. Thanks to this progress, the vision for 2013 and beyond is becoming clearer.

First, 2012 helped us form a better understanding of the difference between telemedicine and telehealth. Whereas the power of telemedicine lies in its ability to connect doctors and extend care to new frontiers, telehealth places more emphasis on the role of patients. Traditionally, physicians and payers decided how healthcare was delivered. Today, consumers and employers have more say. Granting patients a voice in the dialogue has resulted in new avenues for improving the speed and quality of healthcare delivery – better home monitoring, non-emergency teleconsultation, and other services that reduce the use of valuable time and resources.

Going hand-in-hand with patient knowledge has been focused awareness of the steps that technology needs to take to enable better delivery. Generally speaking, usability is a major consideration. Improving infrastructure, particularly the availability and speed of broadband access will be pivotal to moving the needle on healthcare delivery. There is also a need for simpler, user-friendly hardware. Smartphones and tablets are far more likely to enter patient’s lexicon than diagnostics systems and more complex robotics.

Combining a more open dialogue with patients and giving them the tools they need and will bolster telehealth’s role in the healthcare ecosystem in 2013. Fortunately, hospitals have gained this clarity and are placing high priority on adopting telehealth programs. As this understanding becomes clearer, the impact will be greater.



AcuteCare Telemedicine in 2013: Cutting Edge Neurological Care, Anywhere

Following a third consecutive year of growth in 2012, AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT), an Atlanta-based partnership of 4 board-certified neurologists, is expanding its efforts to become the leading provider expert neurological care to rural and underserved areas throughout the Southeastern United States via cutting edge telemedicine technology.

Telemedicine, once regarded as an exciting new frontier, has now been fully realized as a part of the mainstream lexicon of medicine as we enter 2013. For a large number of hospital systems, telemedicine programs are now becoming a mandate as the nation faces a growing shortage of specialized physicians.

ACT has established itself as an innovator on the forefront of the industry, taking a unique approach to telemedicine by leveraging new technologies and techniques to enable personal neurology consultation when doctor and patient are in different locations. ACT offers a broad range of customizable services including 24/7 emergency neurological consultation and support programs for facilities seeking Joint Commission accreditation as a Primary Stroke Center, but primarily specializes in telestroke: the application of telemedicine to the treatment of the acute stroke patient. With the help of ACT’s powerful and personalized services, patients throughout the ‘Stroke Belt’ states of the Southeast have drastically improved access to the care they deserve, and medical facilities increase efficiency while reducing the costs associated with maintaining a traditional emergency neurology staff.

Whereas many hospitals with existing neurology departments simply do not have the resources to maintain around-the-clock clinician capacity, ACT has managed to successfully disrupt the trend and bring patient and physician together, regardless of geographical boundaries. Achieving this goal requires a certain level of investment in technology and trust in the people behind it. ACT is truly technology-agnostic.  This agility affords healthcare organizations with the ability to select the platform that meets budgetary and organizational parameters.

ACT provides access to the best 24X7 acute neurological care. Contact Michael Woodcock to hear how teleneurology can impact your business and patients in 2013.



Now is the Time

Like any other year, the beginning of 2013 brings a great deal of optimism about what surprising changes and exciting opportunities and a new year will bring, not just to healthcare, but to our everyday lives. We are living in an age of constant innovation and untamed enthusiasm for what is new. Every day, we read news about the pioneering of new solutions for age-old problems and find ourselves astonished by what we can accomplish with the collective knowledge of generations past and a zeal for moving towards the future.

Telemedicine is a prime example of an entire industry fueled by this fervor for innovation, and the resulting advances it has brought to the way we think about healthcare are nothing short of remarkable. Unfortunately, the level of investment in terms of initial costs and putting trust in new technologies has been enough of an obstacle to prevent many facilities to postpone the adoption of telemedicine.

Embracing telemedicine is about far more than flashy new technology and the promise of saving costs; it is about taking steps forward to make our world a better place. For example, the latest tragedy to make national news out of Newtown, CT served as a stark reminder that there are still great strides that need to be made in order to address the needs of individuals with psychiatric conditions. Fortunately, through telepsychiatry programs and the drastic improvements in patient monitoring capabilities afforded by telemedicine, it is easier than ever before to get help. Extending the attention and the care that is so desperately needed in cases such as these will undoubtedly help us prevent many such worst-case scenarios.

It is the hope of AcuteCare Telemedicine and other proponents of telehealth that the plethora of new equipment and methods available to providers will continue to propel healthcare towards an era in which every individual has unhindered access to the care they need. There has never been a more important time to push the many benefits of telemedicine into the spotlight, and take the first steps towards achieving this goal.



Stroke Treatment Gets a Boost

Fifty years ago, the only advice medical textbooks gave physicians for someone suffering with a stroke was to put him to bed and keep him comfortable, hoping that with time, the brain would heal as best it could. For 30 years, promising techniques preceded disappointing trials. First, heparin was going to be the savior, and for most of the 70s and 80s, it almost served as a standard, but better studies eventually showed that the treatment was not just worthless, but in reality dangerous, causing more brain hemorrhages than no treatment at all. Later, drugs that were intended to clear out “free radicals” were going to save the ischemic penumbra, part of viable brain tissue around a central core of dead cells, but all studies showed that either the medication didn’t get to the target, didn’t work, or could even be toxic to the brain.

In the mid 90s, tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), long used for heart attack victims to break up the clots inside arteries of the heart, was shown to be effective in doing the same in arteries of the brain. For the first time, physicians had something to offer patients that actually made a difference. About a third of patients who received TPA had better three month outcomes than those that did not. This success rate was quite good, but patients with severe strokes still did not respond as well because, in most cases, thrombi in the large arteries were not effectively dissolved.

Only in the last few years have studies been done to consider the effectiveness of a thrombectomy, the process of physically pulling out a thrombus inside an artery in the brain or neck, The early devices available to physicians are fairly good at the task, but a substantial number of patients continue to suffer from residual blockages of the arteries following the procedure.

A report of clinical trials using two new types of thrombectomy devices, called Solitaire and Trevo Retriever, show both of these new devices as being up to five times more effective than their predecessors in opening up arteries. Advances this drastic are rare in medicine, but physicians should be optimistic about the potential for these instruments in improving outcomes. Provided that patients can have access to skilled practitioners in time, within eight hours or sooner, the treatment of stroke may be about to enter a dramatic new phase.

Stroke is the most serious disabling condition in adults, resulting in hundreds of thousands of permanent injuries and deaths every year. This decade may witness the greatest advances in the history of stroke treatment. There are still further trials to run, but with these exciting new prospects, the importance of stroke neurologists like the doctors of ACT being present in every emergency room, either in person or by remote presence, cannot be overstated.



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.



AcuteCare Telemedicine Turns 3!

This October marks the third anniversary of AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT). Over the course of its first three years, ACT has grown considerably during a period of significant change in the policy and industry of healthcare in America. The 4 Board Certified partners of ACT have retained a steady focus on their mission of filling a growing need for 24/7 neurology coverage.

Telemedicine has proven to be a burgeoning facet of the healthcare industry, with technological advancements and enhanced communications allowing providers to extend their reach over geographical boundaries to patients in need while simultaneously streamlining the healthcare delivery process and reducing associated financial and environmental costs. ACT has worked hard to stay ahead of the curve, offering the most cutting-edge solutions for saving lives in cases of neurological emergency.

Entering its fourth year of providing this expert neurological consultation via telemedicine technology to rural and underserved medical facilities throughout the Southeast, ACT looks forward to continued growth. As teleneurology continues to garner attention from hospitals as a practical and effective solution to neurologist staffing needs, the outlook for the company this year and beyond is extremely positive. “The message of ACT has really started to take hold in the healthcare community, and as our efforts for finding new hospital partners ramp up, we are optimistic that we will ultimately be able to reach even more patients with and offer them the level of care they deserve,” says Dr. Lisa Johnston, Partner, ACT.

“Following our rebrand of the company in 2011, we have stayed dedicated to our values as expert practitioners and our vision as a business,” adds Dr. Keith Sanders, Partner, ACT. “The standard of service we have been able to provide has only climbed higher. We are truly passionate about combating morbidity and mortality rates of acute stroke, right here at home in the Stroke Belt (a region of the Southeastern US with higher-than average stroke rates) and beyond.”

Hard work and diligence is paying off for the partners of ACT. As the group continues to practice neurology full time and commit themselves to reaching more patients in 2013, they hope to add to an already impressive list of achievements and accolades throughout their short history.

 



Big Med Goes Back To School

In his most recent article in The New Yorker, contributor Dr. Atul Gawande demonstrates the value of quality-focused innovation in providing excellent service. Dr. Gawande nods to the Cheesecake Factory’s success in nimbly updating its large and varied menu as a potential model for healthcare innovation. Initially, he takes Big Med (as he calls organized American medicine) to task because, in his words, “good ideas still take an appallingly long time to trickle down,” but in the latter half of the article he provides examples of how the industry is getting things right.

Gawande’s own mother’s knee replacement surgery serves as his first example; by utilizing standardized protocols and equipment, his mother and her hospital achieved top results at a low cost. He then points to an innovative new way of managing patient data in real time that is serving to improve care: In Tele-ICU, nurses and doctors collect patient care data remotely from ICU patients and give direct feedback to the caregivers at the bedside. Using standardized treatment plans, Tele-ICU actually improves the quality of care while simultaneously lowering the costs associated with the sickest and traditionally most costly patients in the hospital.

As providers of teleneurology services, AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT) wholeheartedly agrees with Dr. Gawande’s observations. Improving the quality of care in emergency neurology requires a standardized, quality-driven approach. Simply put, something done frequently becomes something done well. Traditionally, most neurologists who take ER calls don’t get much experience treating acute stroke patients, and neurology training focuses on diagnosing the problem rather than emphasizing treatment options and paradigms. The nuances of tPA inclusion and exclusion and the decisions about other stroke treatment options mandate that the neurologist treating stroke emergencies be familiar with the most up-to-date practices. Who would you rather have piloting your medical care: the team that flies sporadically, or the one that flies every day?