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Technology harnessed to help stroke patients

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 05/14/2019 9:00 AM

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Nurse Margo Singleton and physician Dr. Brady Murphy display Bethesda Regional Health Centre’s new Telestroke hardware, installed in January. The emergency room sees an average of five patients per month who are exhibiting stroke symptoms.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Nurse Margo Singleton and physician Dr. Brady Murphy display Bethesda Regional Health Centre’s new Telestroke hardware, installed in January. The emergency room sees an average of five patients per month who are exhibiting stroke symptoms.

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Stroke patients arriving at Bethesda Regional Health Centre can now be assessed via video link by specialists in Winnipeg or Brandon, following the expansion of a provincial information-technology program to the Southern Health region.

Telestroke is the latest application of Telehealth, an ongoing strategy for expanding health care services in rural areas by using technology to link providers and patients separated by geographic distance.

Telestroke was added to hospitals in Steinbach, Winkler, and Portage la Prairie earlier this year. Each facility received a computer terminal, flat-screen television, and camera for transmitting live video, audio, and scan results to on-call neurologists and radiologists.

Having real-time diagnostic data at hand allows specialists to more quickly decide whether a rural patient who is exhibiting signs of a stroke should be administered a clot-bursting drug, said Debbie Rigaux, client services manager for Bethesda’s emergency department.

The Steinbach ER sees an average of five patients per month who are exhibiting stroke symptoms. Not all will require clot-bursting drugs, but all are treated using the same protocols, Rigaux said.

Prior to Telestroke, some Southeast stroke patients were transported by paramedics directly to Winnipeg. Others were treated at Bethesda while ER staff consulted specialists by phone.

Now, paramedics responding to a potential stroke patient can alert Bethesda ER staff to begin establishing a Telestroke link before the patient arrives.

"We can call our in CT staff, lab staff, and get the nursing and physician staff ready and prepared. It prevents any delays," Rigaux said.

Once the patient does arrive, a video feed allows the specialist to be more involved in the patient’s examination, Dr. Brady Murphy, a Bethesda ER physician, explained.

Jo-Anne Marion, Bethesda’s director of health services, said a 24/7 videoconferencing service like Telestroke is a reassurance to emergency physicians who are working against the clock to give patients the best possible chance of recovery.

"They need to be seen, assessed, and receive treatment within four and a half hours from the onset of the symptoms," Murphy said.

The tight timeline means a prompt 911 call is crucial if someone is experiencing signs of stroke, Marion and Rigaux said.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation lists facial drooping, slurred speech, or arms that can’t be raised as warning signs that warrant an immediate 911 call. Less common warning signs include blurred vision, sudden severe headaches, numbness, and difficulty balancing.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada, and a leading cause of disability, Allison Kesler, Manitoba and Saskatchewan CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said in a release.

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