Health

Thursday 18 September 2014

Telemedicine ensures stroke victims have a better outlook

THE outlook for Irish people who have a stroke has dramatically improved with new figures showing the number of patients dying from one of these brain attacks last year dropping below 1,000 for the first time in a decade.

There were 40 fewer deaths between 2009 and 2011 while 150 patients were spared from suffering severe disability.

The improvement for sufferers of stroke was recently outlined in a progress report by the Special Delivery Unit, a nerve centre set up in the Department of Health to drive efficiencies and reduce treatment delays for patients.

Dr Barry White, a specialist who was seconded to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to bring in more productive ways of treating patients in different specialties, said the better survival is strongly linked to more stroke patients getting thrombolysis on time, a life-saving clot-busting treatment.

Ireland now has one of the highest rates for this kind of treatment and the chances of suitable patients getting it on time will be improved further in the next six months thanks to the wonders of telemedicine.

A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

The earlier treatment is given to the patient the better because they are less likely to die or suffer from disability.

Clot busting treatment is only effective if started during the first four and a half hours after the onset of the stroke.

It is administered to the patient through a small tube in a vein of the arm. However, not all patients are suitable for thrombolysis treatment. Doctors need to assess how severe the stroke is as well as the patient's medical and family history before deciding if the treatment is suitable.

The patient should have a scan first -- but if it is given on time and the patient is deemed right for the treatment it allows blood flow to return and boosts their chances of recovery.

Dr White said the wider use of telemedicine will mean greater availability of the treatment for patients who rushed to hospital in the evenings and at weekends.

A hospital consultant will be on call and can do a computer link-up to look at the patient's scans through a high tech laptop, even in their own home.

This will allow them to give advice and guide doctors who are in the patient's treating hospital, providing the treatment as early as possible.

The rest of us should acquaint ourselves with the signs to look out for which could signal that somebody is having a stroke.

The FAST acronym was created as a memory aid.

• F -- Face -- has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?

• A -- Arms -- Can they raise both arms and keep them there?

• S -- Speech -- is their speech slurred?

• T -- Time to call 999 if you spot even a single one of these signs.

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