February 24, 2016 | American Heart Month: “Telestroke” Services Support Health Initiative

February is American Heart Month, and as heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., many organizations are banding together to raise awareness for the cause and help better support these patients.

In particular, the Million Heart organization has challenged all men to start one new, heart healthy behavior this month- whether that is scheduling a visit with the doctor to talk about heart health, adding extra daily exercise, or even taking their medicine as prescribed.

However, as patients do their best to improve their heart health, we as providers must also ask: What can we do to help improve the care of these individuals at risk for heart disease and its associated conditions?

Appropriately enough, mHealth Intelligence wrote a great piece last week discussing the use of telehealth to treat stroke patients in Mississippi, in particular identifying St. Dominic Hospital as one provider effectively using these services to reach remote, rural communities and cut down on potentially deadly treatment time tables.

In the past, whenever a rural patient presented symptoms of a stroke, they would have to drive an average of 80 miles to St. Dominic, and during this time serious and potentially permanent damage could be developing in their bodies. Using telehealth, patients are able to instantly connect with a specialist who will determine if a clot-busting drug (called tPA) is needed.

As those familiar with stroke patients know, the timeliness of the tPA intervention can often be the difference between a full recovery, potential paralysis, and even if the patient survives. When one considers that just 1 in 5 patients receive the drug within an hour of arriving at a hospital, then that 80 mile travel distance quite literally becomes a life or death situation.

According to the American Stroke Association, American Heart Association, and the ATA, telestroke services could save thousands of people each year and cut costs by $1.2 billion by 2025. Despite these promising statistics, only 3 percent to 5 percent of those diagnosed with a stroke are given tPA in time to avoid brain damage.

Beyond February, it’s clear that we must all work together to improve the care of heart disease patients and those at risk for stroke. The message to providers is clear: We have the technology, now is the time to use it to make sure these patients receive the care they deserve and in a timely fashion.