St. Joseph’s Hospital speeds up stroke patient care

NASHUA – Timing is everything when it comes to dealing with a stroke, and officials at St. Joseph Hospital are speeding up the care they provide to their patients with a bit of new technology.

The hospital, which is a member of Covenant Health, launched Telestroke, which is a virtual stroke care program in collaboration from TeleSpecialists. This technology provides officials immediate access to neurology specialists via a video conference call. In a matter of minutes, a specialist appears on the screen ready to provide care.

“Although emergency departments across the country are really good at providing excellent care in acute stroke, anything we can do to improve that, we’re going to do,” St. Joseph Hospital Medical Director for Emergency Service Dr. Deepak Vatti said. “So, having an extra set of specialty eyes, so a neurologist, bedside as soon as possible is only going to make that better.”

Since strokes are a very time sensitive medical situation, as brain cells are dying, resulting in the loss of brain functions. By having specialists come online through Telestroke, a patient’s symptoms can be quickly evaluated and lifesaving treatment can be offered.

Vatti said it is nice having a consultant doing the exam with the physical presence of a medical professional to help make decisions.

“When the Telestroke person comes online, they’re with the patient and that’s their only patient,” Vatti said.

This can be quite helpful to in-person hospital staff. They are also often juggling multiple other sick patients simultaneously. Having this technology in place allows any acute changes to be observed immediately by the Telestroke specialist, which he said is a major advantage. Although the initiative has only been in place for a matter of weeks, he said it has been great so far. Additionally, if the stroke patient goes for other procedures, such as an X-ray for example, this machine will follow the patient wherever they go. Vatti also said he thinks telemedicine is going to have a pretty big role in medicine coming forward. As it is, St. Joseph Hospital already utilizes telespecialists for psychiatry.

Dr. Yelena Vidgop is a teleneurologist with TeleSpecialists, and has been doing this sort of work for three years. She said there are great processes in place that streamline the documentation and access to patients, and that this technology has been great so far.

“I think the difference between private practice and this is our response times, patient care,” Vidgop said. “We’re usually on camera within five minutes.”

Stroke Program Coordinator at St. Joseph Kristina DeBruin said that in 2018, the hospital saw 228 stroke patients, although some were because of their needs. Nonetheless, she cited the most recent data for New Hampshire from 2016, where there were 31 stroke deaths in Nashua, which is a population rate of 29.1 per 100,000 people. Nationally, the rates for death by stroke is at 37.6 per 100,000 population, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moreover, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in both the U.S. and in New Hampshire.

“More women die of stroke than of breast cancer,” DeBruin said.

When it comes to experiencing a stroke, the signs and symptoms have a sudden onset, often within minutes to just a few hours. However, she said the key to recognizing them as signs of stroke as opposed to something else is “sudden onset.” Examples of these symptoms include, sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble talking, or understanding speech; facial droop or facial numbness; trouble walking, or experiencing dizziness or loss of coordination; and sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.