AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Recognizing the Symptoms of Stroke

While stroke awareness is a major concern for both men and women, a recent study concluded that women are less likely to recognize stroke symptoms. Only half of those surveyed know that sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the face, arms or legs is a warning sign of a stroke. 44 percent are aware that speech difficulty is a stroke sign while less than 1-in-4 could identify sudden severe headache, unexplained dizziness and sudden vision loss, or vision loss in one eye as the top symptoms of stroke. The study surveyed more than 1,200 women in the United States to assess their understanding of stroke’s warning signs.

The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person but usually begin suddenly. As different parts of the brain control different parts of the body, your symptoms depend upon the part of the brain affected and the extent of the damage.

The main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word F.A.S.T.: Face-Arms-Speech-Time.

  • Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have drooped
  • Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness
  • Speech – speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake
  • Time – it is time to dial 911 immediately if any of these signs or symptoms at the earliest onset of these symptoms

For those living with or who care for somebody in a high-risk group, such as someone who is elderly or has diabetes or high blood pressure, being aware of the symptoms is even more important.

The acronym “FAST” is also meant to underscore the importance of rapidly delivering treatment to stroke patients. If given in time, a clot-busting drug administered during a stroke can lead to better outcomes and a decrease in the likelihood that a patient will suffer long-term disability. A recent study examined the effectiveness of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) relative to the delay in administering this clot busting drug. Researchers found that every minute tPA was delayed cost nearly 2 days of disability free survival. The researchers commented that their message is literally “Save a Minute, Save a Day.”

Although many Americans live relatively close to a hospital where emergency stroke treatment is available, few actually receive the recommended therapies. Researchers found that only 4 percent of the more than 370,000 Medicare patients who suffered a stroke in 2011 were treated with tPA. Most stroke victims fail to recognize the symptoms of stroke or call 911 early enough to receive the necessary treatment. tPA is most effective when administered within a 4 hour window of time.

Every minute counts for stroke patients. Remember to act F.A.S.T.!



Study Confirms Predictions Of Telemedicine Benefits for ICU’s

Supporters of telemedicine have long predicted that the application of telemedicine services in Intensive Care Units (ICU’S) would have a beneficial effect on costs and patient outcomes and the first large-scale multi-center study of the effects of use of telemedicine in the intensive care unit for adult care is indicating significant improvements in patient care and lower costs.

The results of the study were released in the CHEST Journal Online First, a publication of the American College of Chest Physicians. The study, “A Multi-center  Study of Telemedicine Reengineering of Adult Critical Care,” looked at the impact of the program on 118,990 critical care patients, across 56 ICUs, 32 hospitals and 19 health systems over a five-year period, and demonstrated reductions in both mortality and length of stay.

Among the key findings were that, compared to patients receiving conventional ICU care, patients using the telemedicine ICU program were:

  • 26 percent more likely to survive the ICU;
  • Discharged from the ICU 20 percent faster;
  • 16 percent more likely to survive hospitalization and be discharged; and
  • Discharged from the hospital 15 percent faster.

Craig Lilly, M.D., professor of medicine, anesthesiology and surgery at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and director of the eICU program at UMass Memorial Medical Center, said, “The study demonstrates that if you use really high-quality tools and motivated and talented people, that you can shift the paradigm; you can save lives and you can save money at the same time.” He added that the study is large enough, that it provides some insights as to ICU telemedicine works, and where its use makes sense. He noted that not everybody that implemented the ICU telemedicine tools did it in the same way. By using the validated survey instrument, the researchers were able to identify factors that made a difference in better patient care.

“Today, personnel accounts for 56 percent of the $2.8 trillion healthcare spend in the U.S., and coupled with the current shortage of clinicians, many hospitals are unable to offer on-site intensivist physicians, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Brian Rosenfeld, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Philips Healthcare Telehealth. “This study provides further evidence that health systems employing coordinated telehealth in their care models will increase provider productivity, while improving outcomes and reducing costs.”



Positive Patient Outcome Advances the Telemedicine Delivery Model

Recently a team of researchers from UCLA completed a major study on the use of tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, on stroke victims within 4.5 hours after the stroke occurs. That study of more than 50,000 stroke patients, as reported in a recent issue of JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, confirms that the sooner tPA is administered, the better chance of recovery.  In response to the study, AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT), an Atlanta-based company that’s billed as the largest practice-based provider of teleneurology is making an aggressive push to help smaller hospitals and networks that don’t have immediate access to neurologists.

Their efforts have proven to be life saving for one Ozark, Alabama resident and recent stroke victim.  The collaboration between ACT and the Southeast Alabama Medical Center (SAMC) is having its desired effect for SAMC patients, providing once unavailable, advanced life saving treatments to stroke patients. The Stroke Care Network, established in Dothan, Ala., in collaboration with ACT, the Southeastern Alabama Medical Center Foundation and the Alabama Partnership for Telehealth provides stroke services for a 240-square-mile swath that includes southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.

The collaboration was initiated when Cecilia Land, SAMC’s division director for rehabilitation services discovered an increase in the areas mortality and morbidity due to stroke. “We recognized an immediate need to establish a stroke care network, providing patients with access to 24×7 teleneurology,” said Land.  SAMC officials hope to add more “spokes” to the network, in the form of hospitals and clinics, and also want to use the network to educate communities on the importance of wellness and identifying precursors to a stroke.  Dr. Keith A. Sanders from AcuteCare Telemedicine hopes to extend ACT’s telemedicine platform to other specialties, such as telepsychology, and he expects more hospitals and health networks will buy into the system as executives see the benefits of sharing specialist services without having to house them on-site.

This most recent life-saving patient outcome from the collaboration between ACT and SAMC is proof that the new telemedicine health care model is an excellent vehicle to advancing the availability and quality of telestroke care to SAMC patients and to underserved patients all around the country.



Will Mobile Technology Help Close The Digital Divide?

A recent study is revealing that patients using telemedicine are more likely to be urban and well educated. Based on data from 53,000 households collected by the Census Bureau in July 2011, the report found 8 percent of urban Internet users took part in telemedicine initiatives, compared with 4 percent in rural areas. That stands in contrast to telemedicine’s common selling point that it can more effectively and conveniently provide services to people in remote locations.

Participants were also found to be wealthier.  At income levels of $100,000 or more, 11 percent of Internet users took part in remote care, compared 4 percent from households in the under $25,000 bracket.  The 25-44 age group was found to be the most likely segment using online services for medical care and information.

As access to telemedicine opportunities continue to grow it is expected that the demographics will likely shift to include lower-income and less-educated patients.  One technology that may improve access to telehealth services is the mobile or smart phone devices which appear to be closing the digital divide among various demographic segments of the population. Mobile technology has become especially critical for low-income minorities who have no other technological means of connecting to the internet.

Survey results released in September by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicate that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to own a smartphone, with 49 percent of Hispanics, 47 percent of African Americans, and 42 percent of whites owning these mobile devices.  For these groups, mHealth has the potential to be a powerful tool in promoting healthy living and preventive medicine, particularly in combating the high rates of diabetes in these populations.

Development of new and innovative health related mobile applications and growing the number of smart phones in the hands of the more economically challenged population promises to be an effective means to bridging the healthcare gap in America. Health and Human Services (HHS) has called on developers to create a mobile application to help educate minorities and women about cancer screenings and allow secure access to medical records.

Only time will reveal whether telemedicine’s promising benefits of increased access and lower cost of quality medical care will better attract and reach those who are most in need.



Check Your Head

In the wake of countless notable events including the deaths of several professional athletes in the past 5 years, new light has been shed on an epidemic which we are beginning to learn may be far more widespread than initially thought.

Researchers at Boston University recently published the largest study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to date. CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease thought to stem from concussive trauma to the head, has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s, but only recently has gained notoriety as a serious concern for athletes of all ages across many sports. In these latest findings, 68 of 85 donated brains from deceased veterans and athletes with histories of head trauma showed visible evidence of the disease, including a staggering 34 of the 35 brains from former professional football players.

CTE

The greatest concerns sparked by our growing understanding of CTE’s causes and pathology are without a doubt related to the protection of younger children participating in sports and other activities where risk of injury to the brain is involved. The work of the BU researchers has led to drastically improved protective equipment and restructuring of rules and regulations to minimize the number and force of hits to the head, but it is nearly impossible to remove the potential for these injuries from sports at any level.

Thus, the best possible measures that can be taken are to prevent any repeat injury of the brain. Taking the lead, the NFL has instituted mandatory on-field concussion screening following hard hits. The NHL has also ordered that players with potential head injuries spend time in a ‘quiet room’ off the ice. Youth leagues are particularly concerned with preventing any participant who may have sustained an injury from getting back into the game and facing further danger.

Telemedicine offers the potential for significant further contribution to these efforts. With the help of technology, expert neurologists can always be on hand to examine potential head injuries, and monitor patients in the aftermath of an injury, aiding the recovery process. Thanks to telemedicine’s advances, logistics and associated costs are no longer obstacles to immediate and accurate concussion diagnosis and treatment.

The fight against CTE and other trauma-induced brain disease starts long before the first injury happens, but when it cannot be entirely prevented, telemedicine could play a role in ensuring fewer players incur more severe consequences later in life.