DeKALB – Time is of the essence when someone shows symptoms of a stroke. Now, patients at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital should have a better chance at recovery thanks to a new system that will connect them with neurologists miles away.
Northwestern Medicine’s health system has expanded its telestroke program to include Kishwaukee Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital in Sandwich. Hospital officials said the system went live Monday and the technology is available to help patients receive immediate care and help doctors quickly determine the best diagnosis and treatment for those patients.
Telestroke is an audio and video communication system similar to Skype or FaceTime but with less sound or picture lag, which allows doctors to evaluate stroke symptoms in a patient in real time. Getting treatment within three hours of the first symptoms of a stroke is important to preventing long-term disability and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Mircea Iacob, neurologist at Northwestern Medicine Central
DuPage Hospital in Winfield, said during a telestroke demonstration Thursday at Kishwaukee Hospital that he would ask the patient to follow some instructions, such as repeating a few common phrases, identifying objects in his hand and having nurses checking for feeling in one hand or another of the patient. After conducting those tests, he said, the local nursing staff and remote experts will be able to make a quicker decision on whether a stroke patient should be prescribed a blood thinner, for example.
“The sooner we can start this, the better patients do,” Iacob said.
Kristen Tindall, emergency room manager at Kishwaukee Hospital, said under the old system, nurses would evaluate patients’ symptoms while reporting to a neurologist over the phone. The telestroke system will shorten hospital response time and allow patients to stay at their local hospital while receiving immediate care from a stroke specialist. Patients still would be able to see the in-house neurologist in person.
“This is just supplementing local care,” Tindall said.
Dr. Richard Bernstein, director of the telestroke system for Northwestern Medicine, said the technology already has launched in eight other locations, with most being out of network. He said many hospitals have shown interest in carrying the technology but may only have a limited bandwidth to support it, which is why it wasn’t implemented at area hospitals sooner.
“It was the right time for the overall program to expand,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein said there’s a need for this type of technology because the in-house neurologists at Kishwaukee Hospital and Valley West Hospital are busy at both locations. He said the first 20 minutes of treatment are crucial when someone is suffering from a stroke and telestroke also can help to avoid lengthy transfers from one facility to another.
“Even at the best hospitals with the best neurologists,” he said, “it can never be as quick as someone being on screen in five or 10 minutes.”