Mayo Clinic extends telemedicine to Navajo Nation

Mayo Clinic has extended its telestroke program to residents of the largest Navajo Nation city who need emergency medical care due to stroke.

As a result of the recent agreement between Tuba City Regional Health Care and the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Mayo Clinic, officials say the telehealth services will start in Tuba City as early as November.

Tuba City is located in north central Arizona, within the Painted Desert. Some 92 percent of the city's 8,611 residents belong to the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

"This telestroke partnership between our physicians and Mayo Clinic means our Navajo and Hopi patients can now have immediate high-tech, state of the art stroke care," said Joseph Engelken, CEO of Tuba City Regional Health Care.

[See also: Telemedicine market to reach $2.5B by 2018.]

Mayo Clinic was the first medical center in Arizona to conduct clinical research to study telemedicine as a means of serving stroke patients in non-urban settings, officials say, and today serves as the hub in a network of 11 other centers, all but one located in Arizona. Tuba City Regional Health Care will become the 12th hospital to be part of the telestroke service from Mayo Clinic.

When Mayo Clinic began its stroke telemedicine program in 2005, officials said research revealed that 40 percent of Arizona residents lived outside an area with immediate stroke expertise. In telestroke care, the use of a telestroke computers located in a rural hospital allows a stroke patient to be seen in real time by a neurology specialist at Mayo Clinic located in Phoenix.

The Mayo stroke neurologist consults via computer screen with emergency room physicians at the rural sites to then evaluate the patient. Patients showing signs of stroke can be examined by the neurologist via computer, smart phone technology, portable tablets or laptops.

In addition to assessment of the patient, the neurologist can view scans of the patient's brain to detect possible damage from a hemorrhage or blocked artery.

Officials say a major benefit of the collaboration is that patients with stroke symptoms who meet the criteria can often be administered clot-busting medications within the narrow window of time necessary to minimize permanent injury to the brain.

"Excellent, capable emergency physicians at Tuba City Regional Health Care can ring the telestroke hotline and be instantly connected with Mayo Clinic's stroke experts," said Bart Demaerschalk, MD, professor of neurology, and medical director of Mayo Clinic Telestroke. "Urgent and immediate virtual care can be provided to patients — collaboration between stroke neurologists and physicians at the remote sites has resulted in 96 percent accuracy in diagnosing stroke."

[See also: Top 5 health conditions for telemedicine treatment.]