Remote evaluation of acute ischemic stroke in rural community hospitals in Georgia

Author(s): Wang S, Gross H, Lee SB, Pardue C, Waller J, et al.

Abstract

Background and purpose: Despite Food and Drug Administration approval of tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) for stroke, obstacles in the US health care system prevent widespread use. The Remote Evaluation for Acute Ischemic Stroke (REACH) program was developed to address these obstacles in rural settings. We have previously shown the reliability of the REACH system in performing a valid National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) evaluation at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG). We now report on the performance of the system since its deployment in 5 rural hospitals in east Georgia.

Methods: The rural emergency department (ED) staff can activate a Code REACH protocol 24 hours per day, 7 days per week by calling the Emergency Communications Center (ECC, an in-house dispatch center) at MCG, who pages the on-call consultant. The consultant calls back the ECC and is connected to the waiting ED. Simultaneously, using any broadband-connected workstation, the consultant logs in to the REACH system, allowing performance of an NIHSS evaluation, review of the computerized tomography (CT) images transmitted by the local radiology staff, and then the consultant can speak to the patient and family to verify time of onset.

Results: The REACH system has evaluated 75 patients from March 2003 to April 2004, and 12 have received tPA, all without intracranial hemorrhage complications. NIHSS scores ranged from 0 to 30, with a mean of 14.3 (SD=8.7, median 11.5). The mean onset to door time was 70.9 minutes (SD=70.8, median 50), the mean door to consult time was 45.1 minutes (SD=39.8, median 34), and the mean door to NIHSS completion was 62.9 minutes (SD=50.8, median 51). The mean onset to needle time was 135.33 minutes (SD=51.45, median 134.5).

Conclusions: The REACH system enables remote stroke physicians to direct the local ED staff to administer tPA in rural settings where thrombolytics were not previously used. REACH may be used as a rapid consult tool to provide the same quality of stroke care to patients in rural hospitals as is given in tertiary stroke centers. This supports our endeavor to bring stroke expertise to rural community hospitals.

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