The University of Virginia Health System is using a federal grant to expand stroke treatment and telehealth training, as well as access to its iTREAT telestroke platform, to six rural Virginia counties.
The University of Virginia Health System is spearheading a new digital health program aimed at improving emergency treatment of strokes in rural areas.
UVA Health is using a $1.5 million grant from the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to launch a three-year telemedicine program to educate and train rural healthcare providers on pre-hospital emergency care and post-discharge follow-up care for stroke patients. The program will also link ambulances in those counties to the health system's iTREAT telestroke platform, which connects EMS crews treating a suspected stroke victim in real-time with specialists.
"This will help us render excellent care not only for sudden strokes but also for the prevention and follow-up treatment of stroke,” Nina Solenski, MD, a stroke neurologist at UVA Health’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and the program’s director, said in a press release. “This is urgently needed. Buckingham County, for example, has nearly twice the rate of stroke deaths in non-Hispanic Black individuals compared to the national average. Reversing these types of disparities in our own surrounding communities is our goal and it’s a team effort with all different types of healthcare providers.”
The program's training element will focus on three areas. Paramedics and other EMS providers will be given instruction on community paramedicine strategies, which will enable them to treat more 911 calls at the scene and reduce unnecessary ED transports. Through a Project ECHO telemedicine platform, they'll be educated on the latest methods for identifying and treating patients suspected of suffering a stroke from specialists. And they'll also be taught how to use telemedicine for stroke treatment and care management.
“This is an important goal of the program," George Lindbeck, MD, an emergency medicine physician at UVA Health and the program’s co-director, said in the press release, noting the education resources will also be made available to students at the Charlottesville-Albemarle technical Education Center and nursing students at UVA Wise. "We want to encourage the development of these trainees and get them excited about joining a team of technology-savvy healthcare professionals dedicated to ensuring healthy lives for all.”
One of the longer-running and most documented telemedicine services, telestroke has been proven to boost clinical outcomes and save lives in both urban and rural regions. The service centers on a secure and reliable audio-visual telemedicine platform that gives emergency responders an on-demand link to a stroke specialist who can identify and diagnose stroke symptoms and prescribe clot-busting drugs. The sooner that a stroke id diagnosed and those drugs are administered, the better chance the patient has of avoiding brain damage and death.
The platform is widely used in telemedicine programs that link smaller, rural hospitals and healthcare sites to a larger hospital with stroke speciialists, with the goal of improving clinical outcomes in rural and remote areas where it takes much longer to reach a specialist and administer medication. Some cities and health systems have also used vehicles fitted with telemedicine technology and deployed solely for stroke vicitims, though the price tag for those vehicles is high. As the technology improves, a more likely approach will be to include telemedicine in ambulances and EMS vehicles.
Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.
Telestroke is one of the older and more documented uses of telemedicine technology, giving remote and rural care providers real-time access to stroke specialists for faster diagnosis and treatment.
UVA Health is using a $1.5 million federal grant to expand stroke and telehealth training to EMS providers and others in six rural Virginia counties, where access to emergency care is more difificult and stroke victims have a much higher chance of suffering brain damage and dying.
The health system will also deploy telemedicine technology to ambulances in those counties, giving first responders access to the iTREAT telestroke platform.