WASHINGTON — “Time is brain” when it comes to a person who is suffering a stroke. In fact, time is a stroke victim’s greatest enemy. The faster they get treatment, the better the outcome.
So says one stroke neurologist with the University of Virginia Health System, which is working with local rescue squads to outfit ambulances with iPads and tablets, so that doctors can diagnose such patients en route to the hospital.
Stroke is the leading cause of long-term adult disability in the U.S., says Dr. Andrew Southerland, a stroke neurologist with the University of Virginia Health System, which is raising $10,000 to get new mobile iTREAT telemedicine kits online.
Dr. Southerland tells WTOP that the longest delay in treating stroke patients doesn’t happen once they get to the hospital, but before they get there. That’s where the iTREAT kits would come in. Rescue workers can diagnose a stroke patient right in the back of the ambulance, using the hand-held technology to connect via video with doctors.
“That’s otherwise idle travel time that we could begin the diagnostic and treatment process,” Southerland says.
That’s important, considering that only five percent of stroke patients ever receive the clot-busting drug otherwise known as a Tissue Plasminogen Activator, because after three hours it’s no longer safe nor effective to administer.
“The longer a stroke goes on before appropriate treatment is administered, the more likely the patient is to suffer a larger area of brain injury,” Southerland added.
That translates into a greater amount of disability. He says getting treatment fast is the difference between a patient walking out of the hospital and a patient going to a nursing home.
Hospital officials say getting stroke patients treated quickly is especially challenging for stroke victims living in remote rural areas in central and southwest Virginia, where it may take an ambulance 30 minutes or longer to get them to an emergency room or stroke center.
“iTREAT is really designed to help support patients from rural communities to get the care they need quickly,” said David Cattell-Gordon, director of University of Virginia’s Office of Telemedicine. “Every minute in a stroke matters.”