Midwestern health system sees benefits of telestroke unit that provides fast, efficient care

Doctor and nurses wheeling patient in gurney through hospital corridor
A telestroke initiative at one Illinois health system has provided life-saving emergency care to more than 1,500 patients.

A telehealth program at one Midwestern health system is paying off for stroke patients that require immediate intervention.

Hospital Sisters Health System, which oversees 15 hospitals throughout Illinois and Wisconsin, has treated more than 1,500 emergency stroke patients through its telehealth program since it was implemented in 2014. The 24/7 emergency service provides access to specialists who can respond to a patient in three minutes or less, according to the health system.

Telestroke has become a widely adopted practice among healthcare systems that don’t have constant access to a neurologist. Eighty-three percent of healthcare executives say they are likely or very likely to invest in telehealth technology, even as payment models have lagged behind innovation.

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“Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, but with provider shortages, many rural hospitals have no access to stroke specialists,” Alison Kennedy, director of clinical service lines at HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, Illinois said in a release. “Remote presence neurologists can evaluate patients for tPA, a clot-busting drug that can reduce death and disability from stroke.”

The system used $300,000 in federal grant funding to secure the telehealth equipment and leads the Illinois Telehealth Network, a coalition of 26 hospitals and healthcare providers.

Gurpreet Mander, M.D., chief medical officer for HSHS St. John’s Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois and executive director of the Illinois Telehealth Network, told The State Register-Journal that the new technology has helped rural hospitals get fast and efficient care for stroke patients. He added that expanding telehealth parity laws would allow the system to incorporate more specialties into the program.  

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Telehealth is poised to be a critical service for rural health providers. Several provider and payer organizations have called on the FCC to expand funding for rural facilities that don’t have adequate access to broadband in order to support telehealth initiatives.