In a wonderful synthesis of health care needs, patient choice, cost effectiveness, and beneficial outcomes, a recent report from The Mayo Clinic‘s ‘Telestroke’ program demonstrates the payoff of the pilot program. Telestroke provides the communications means for rural doctors and hospitals to have online connections with neurological and brain specialists in urban research hospitals. The technology saves vital minutes (if not critical hours) by bringing the specialist virtually to the on-side doctor and patient, rather than trying to move the patient to the requisite hospital.
The technology involves more than simple network communication for referral or consultation. According to the Mayo Clinic’s site, “Doctors communicate using digital video cameras, Internet telecommunications, robots, smart phones and other technology. Having a prompt neurological evaluation increases the possibility that you may receive clot-dissolving therapies (thrombolytics) or other clot-retrieving treatments in time to reduce disability resulting from stroke.”
And the first tests offer the statistics of success.
The report was released a couple of weeks ago in a program that focused on Arizona and Utah. According to Dr. Bart Demaerschalk, professor of Neurology, director of the Mayo Clinic Telestroke Program, and co-author of the study, “Cost-effectiveness analyses reveal to us how much health bang we get for our buck. We can assess medical services, like telemedicine, in terms of the net costs to society for each year of life gained.”
The concern for stroke victims is that the sooner intervention and care start, the better the chances of recovery without notable damage to brain tissue – damage that might make returning to work difficult. The study was to see of the costs required to run the Telestroke program made it viable over the next 90 days and average lifetimes of stroke survivors. The study focusses, therefore, on the economic and social costs of Telestroke itself, not on the efficacy of any particular treatment for the stroke victim.
Though the technology required to establish Telestroke is not cheap, and hospitals and patients must pay those costs up front, any cost-effectiveness of the treatment will have to come over subsequent years. And the report demonstrates that such cost-effectiveness can be found over the lifetime of the patient. Surviving a stroke and returning to a productive life depends on speed, which is precisely the opportunity Telestroke offers.
According to Jennifer J. Majersik, M.D., M.S., with the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, “In an era of spiraling health care costs, our findings give critical information to medical policy makers. Telestroke has the potential to greatly diminish the striking disparity in stroke care for rural America.” (quoted from HealthCareITNews.com)
Ancan be found at Neurology.org, where one can purchase the entire report if one wishes.
For a demonstration of the technology, please watch the video below (about 8 minutes).