In Touch Health changes way rural hospitals handle strokes

Published 5:28 pm Friday, March 3, 2017


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Lifestyle Editor

When a person is suspected of having a stroke, time is of the essence. In order to receive the proper treatment they must be diagnosed and treated within a four-hour window. The clock starts ticking at the time when the symptoms are first noticed.

In the case of rural hospitals, that time can be a critical problem. It could take the patient an hour or two to even reach a hospital that has the resources to provide care.

Memorial Hospital of Bainbridge recognized the problem and began working with Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee several months ago to address it. Now they have a portable cart called In Touch Health that provides a telemedicine connection to a group of neurological physicians, any one of whom may be on call.

Tia Hall, training and education manager of SOC (Specialists on Call) conducted a remote tele-presence training program for Memorial Hospital medical staff and Decatur County EMS personnel early Thursday morning. Daniel Dunlap, RN, Outreach director for Hospital Corp. of America, corporate owner of Capital Regional Center, provided in person assistance at the hospital.

The process, as explained in the training, indicates an assessment, including a CT scan, is done in the hospital and an alert goes out to the field of neurologists designated to be on call. The specialist who responds is able to view the CT scan and get a close-up view of the patient, while talking with them and the staff.

The goal is for a rapid response and safe administration of the TPA drug. When it is effective, the symptoms can be resolved in one hour. On the negative side, the drug can be damaging and life-threatening. It can cause hemoraging, even death, if not given appropriately. The team stressed how necessary it was to receive extensive training before administering the drug.  Dunlap added, “There is a lot of liability involved in its administration. This way the ER staff doesn’t have to take the responsibility, the neurologist deals with it.”

Because the cart is portable, its usage is not confined to the ER, but can be used with a patient in any of the rooms. The equipment can also be expanded for use in other medical emergencies.

Dunlap indicated that in many rural areas older physicians may have a mind-set of resistance, then added, “Your doctors have been welcome participants. You are definitely ahead of the curve.”