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New telemedicine technology vital in diagnosing strokes

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Neurologist Dr Thomas Kraemer, Ambulance Victoria’s Grant Hocking and Ballarat Health Services VST Site Coordinator Casey Hair.

THE Victorian Stroke Telemedicine (VST) program is assisting the diagnosis and treatment of acute stroke patients after hours at Ballarat Health Services (BHS). Since becoming operational at BHS in September 2015, the VST has helped diagnose 12 people presenting to the Emergency Department with stroke symptoms.

The first patient to utilize the VST earlier this year was a patient who was brought into the Emergency Department by ambulance after experiencing a sudden onset of visual disturbance, slurred speech and right side weakness on her way home from work.

After arriving at the Emergency Department via Ambulance Victoria (AV), Emergency Department staff promptly contacted the VST program for an urgent review by the on call VST neurologist. As a result of the VST service, the patient received stroke thrombolysis and was transferred to Melbourne for Endovascular clot retrieval.

The VST neurologist was able to conduct an audio-visual consult with the patient by dialling into the telemedicine cart located in the Emergency Department. This was performed in conjunction with ED staff and the VST neurologist was able to provide a neurological assessment leading to diagnosis and treatment advice for the patient. BHS VST Site Coordinator, Casey Hair, said the VST program is a remarkable service that allows regional hospitals to provide access to specialist neurological assessment and treatment for acute stroke when a neurologist is not available.

“The VST program is an initiative led by the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health (The Florey) which enables clinicians to collaborate across organisational boundaries to deliver the best care possible to patients with acute stroke symptoms (such as sudden loss of speech, arm or leg weakness), irrespective of their location. The VST program provides a virtual technology system which links rural and regional Victorian hospitals to a network of Melbourne-based neurologists who can provide treatment advice on patients when stroke specialists at regional sites are not available,” Ms Hair said.

The Florey’s Professor Chris Bladin said the VST program is rolling out across 16 regional hospitals in Victoria. “For the first time many hospitals will have access to stroke experts delivering evidence based care and where needed patients can be transferred for higher level care in Melbourne for clot retrieval in the brain.”

“The VST program at Ballarat Health Services is delivering world class stroke care to patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Professor Bladin said

BHS Neurologist Dr Thomas Kraemer said “Stroke is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the leading cause of disability. Stroke can happen at any age and it is important that people know what the signs and symptoms are, as well as their own stroke risk.

Every minute counts in saving brain cells that can be damaged by a stroke getting to hospital quickly and having rapid diagnosis and early intervention is vital in giving patients the best chance to make a good recovery.” Ms Hair said, “This patient is a great example of the wonderful work the VST program is doing and we hope that the VST system will be able to help many more patients with acute stroke in the future. “The patient has now returned home after making an excellent recovery following the stroke. We’re extremely pleased to see they have made terrific progress in their recovery and we wish them all the best in the future” Ms Hair said.

The VST program is funded by the Federal Government and Victorian Government. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, think F.A.S.T: Face Check their face. Has their mouth drooped? Arms Can they lift both arms? Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you? Time Is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.