New Telemedicine Stroke Program

What can you learn from a new telemedicine stroke program launched by Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lousianna?

Answering the call of HCPLive.com blogger Steven Zuckerman, who in a recent Mind Matters blog post questioned the lack of telemedicine adoption in neurology, Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, LA, has launched a telemedicine initiative that links rural hospitals with the medical center for quick diagnosis and treatment of stroke patients.

The initiative, called the Louisiana Stroke Network, offers rural hospitals free, 24/7 access to neurologists and neuro-interventional radiologists via robotic technology that allows the specialist at Lourdes to remotely exam the patient and his or her information, according to Michelle Crain, chief nurse officer, Our Lady of Lourdes, who added that higher incidence and mortality rates for stroke are seen in the southwest, including Louisiana.

As one of just four hospitals in the state that is accredited as a Center for Stroke Care, Lourdes can use the network to share its expertise and help improve stroke outcomes for patients in rural communities, said Crain. Since becoming operational in late September at one of the network hospitals in Opelousas, LA, Lourdes specialists have handled six calls remotely, according to Lourdes telemedicine coordinator Michelle Hensgens.

Emergency department staff at network hospitals call into the network to be connected to the on-call Lourdes specialist, who links to a robot at the network hospital using a laptop that can control the robot and its cameras remotely. According to Hensgens, the difference between the technology used for the program and a standard webcam is autonomy, with the robot enabling the specialist to move around just as if he or she was in the emergency department room with the patient. “Give it time and you forget you’re talking to a robot,” Hensgens said.

All in all, Lourdes spent $1.5 million on the program, including purchase of five robots (two in use now, and three available when needed), training and staff expenses, said Crain.

For more information about the effort, call the Lourdes Foundation at (337) 289-4024.

Even in such densely populated states as New Jersey, rural areas exist where an ambulance ride to the closest hospital could take more than 30 minutes, and it could take equally as long for the ambulance to arrive. If that hospital doesn’t have a neurologist or neurosurgeon on staff, the outlook for a stroke patient is compounded and surely worse than if he or she were taken to a nearby stroke center. Unfortunately, the reality is that situations like this happen all the time. But what if that hospital had remote access to a stroke center using telemedicine technology? Would the upfront costs of the technology be covered in the long run by less patient complications and fewer days in the hospital? What will it take for HMOs, Medicaid, and Medicare to reimburse for telemedicine visits in every state so that hospitals and physicians have less reason to participate in such programs as those run by Lourdes. We’d love for you to weigh in on the topic. Post a comment below and tell us why you have or haven’t participated in a tele-stroke program.