Telemedicine can be used for accurate diagnosis of stroke symptoms

When a stroke cuts off the blood supply to the delicate tissues of the brain, time is one of the most crucial determinants of a patient's survival and overall outcome. It is so critical the neurologists use the phrase "time is brain" to stress the importance of rapid diagnosis and treatment to minimize the damage of a stroke. In a study in the October issue of Stroke, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) show that new telemedicine technologies can be used to shorten the time required for an accurate stroke diagnosis, especially for patients in locations distant from major medical centers.

"There are two major challenges that lie in the way of patients getting optimum treatment for stroke," says Lee Schwamm, MD, the MGH neurologist who led the study. "One is increasing public awareness so that patients and their family members recognize the symptoms of a stroke [see note at end of release] and get to the nearest emergency room right away. The second challenge is bringing the specialized knowledge required to correctly apply the latest treatments for acute stroke into every emergency room in the country. With telemedicine links to tertiary care centers, smaller community hospitals - even those in isolated rural areas - can deliver state-of-the-art stroke care."

The outlook for patients with potentially disabling strokes has changed dramatically over the past few years with the introduction of thrombolytic or "clot-busting" drugs like tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) that can dissolve a blood clot lodged in the brain before brain tissue is permanently damaged. If appropriate treatment is applied soon enough, patients who might otherwise have died or been serious disabled can recover with few, if any, permanent disabilities.

But the safe application of these medications requires exquisitely accurate diagnosis. If a patient's stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel instead of a clot, or if too much time has elapsed si

Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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