According to Demaerschalk, the study "demonstrated very nicely" that whether the physicians were assessing the patients remotely or in person, their assessments of the severity of the coma were very similar.
Demaerschalk and Amelia Adcock, MD, a Mayo Clinic neurologist and first author of the study, say that their findings are good news for providers using telemedicine to deliver specialist care to underserved areas.
"There is a shortage of intensive care unit providers and facilities with round-the-clock patient coverage," Adcock said in a media statement. "Telemedicine can provide a way to ameliorate this shortage and improve early evaluation of critically ill patients."
Although telemedicine is a good complement to in-person care, it's not meant to be a substitute.
"My goal and that of my fellow researchers is not to replace the human examination, it's not to replace the human element in healthcare," Demaerschalk said. Instead, it can function as a supplement to the local resources and personnel expertise.
If no neurologist is available to assess a stroke patient, the alternative might be transferring that patient, which is not only costly but can take precious time.
The time it takes to transfer a patient could potentially take her out of the window for a treatment opportunity. Using telemedicine can help clinicians start a needed treatment before transfer and may prevent some transfers altogether.
Demaerschalk says that connected care works best for clinical disciplines where there is less of a need to touch the patient, such as tele-psychology and tele-neurology.
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.