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Medical Advances

Telestroke Program Brings Faster Critical Care

Leading Specialists Assess Patients Through Videoconference

Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States according to the American Stroke Association. When a patient is suffering a stroke, every minute counts. Thanks to advances in technology, patients with stroke symptoms can now be rapidly assessed by a neurologist 24/7, even if the specialist is physically located many miles away.

The Northwestern Medicine telestroke program features a two-way video and audio system that allows a board-certified neurologist from the comprehensive stroke centers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital to conduct a virtual physical exam and to collaborate with the emergency medicine teams at area hospitals. The Northwestern Medicine telestroke program is offered to several hospitals in Illinois, including Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest HospitalNorthwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital.

The program has completed more than 3,000 telemedicine consults, significantly boosting early stroke intervention.

Thorough Exam Done Remotely

The videoconferencing system connects the neurologist and patient through a secure internet connection. Using the camera, the neurologist can perform observational tests, such as gauging how a patient’s pupils respond to light sources and monitoring how well the patient can move and speak. Simultaneously, through the electronic medical record, the neurologist has instant access to the patient’s medical information, including vital signs, CT scans and lab results.

While the neurologist is asking questions, and panning and zooming the camera, the patient and family can also see the physician on a portable screen. The neurologist can advise the physicians on site if the patient has suffered the type of stroke that responds to a potentially lifesaving clot-busting drug (tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA) and whether the severity of the patient’s condition warrants transfer to a Comprehensive Stroke Center.

“Even though the doctor and patient are separated by many miles, it is very similar to being at the patient’s bedside,” says Richard Bernstein, MD, director of the telestroke program at Northwestern Medicine. “Capitalizing on the resources of our Comprehensive Stroke Centers, the medical team is able to coordinate the best treatment quickly and help reduce or prevent the potentially debilitating consequences of stroke.”

Fast Response Is Key

“Immediate treatment after stroke is critical to help minimize the risk of serious brain damage,” says Andrew P. Oleksyn, DO, medical director of emergency medicine at Kishwaukee Hospital. “The goal is to diagnose and treat stroke within the ‘Golden Hour,’ the first 60 minutes following onset of symptoms, when patients have much better outcomes.”

Innovative programs like telestroke are a potential solution to the growing national shortage of neurologists. According to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, the supply of neurologists is growing by 11 percent, while demand is projected to grow by 16 percent.

In addition to the telestroke program, Northwestern Medicine’s stroke program is comprised of two Joint Commission Accredited Comprehensive Stroke Centers, two Primary Stroke Centers, a multidisciplinary physician team that includes neurology, neurosurgery, radiology and critical care, and a Mobile Stroke Unit.