New evidence touts benefits of telemedicine for stroke patients

According to new scientific evidence, a remote exam of a stroke patient performed via videoconferencing is as effective as a bedside evaluation, and a good argument for the increased use of telemedicine for stroke care.

A recent article in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association says high-quality videoconferencing not only increases access to stroke patients in rural areas but could also allow physicians to treat a transient ischemic attack (TIA) with the same urgency and abilities as a full-blown stroke.

Patients suffering from TIA must quickly be evaluated to determine if they're eligible for time-sensitive treatment such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which can save brain function and reduce disability. Stroke and brain imaging specialists are often required to perform the evaluation.

"We think a TIA should be treated as an emergency, just like a major stroke," said J. Donald Easton, MD, writing chair of the statment and professor and chairman of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, R.I. "Because we know the high risk of a future stroke, this is a golden opportunity to prevent a catastrophic event."

There are only an average of four neurologists per 100,000 people in the United States, and not all of them specialize in stroke. Telemedicine, or telestroke, coupled with teleradiology, could broaden the reach of neurologists and allows for the remote reviewing of brain images.

"Telemedicine is an effective avenue to eliminate disparities in access to acute stroke care, erasing the inequities introduced by geography, income or social circumstance," said Lee Schwamm, MD, lead author of the scientific statement and policy statement on telemedicine, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and vice chairman of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In order for telemedicine to be used effectively in treating stroke patients, Schwamm says changes are needed in how telemedicine activities are reimbursed. Policy recommendations include:

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