To deal with the demand for neurologists, hospitals are increasingly turning to a new idea: patching a neurologist into the exam room from afar, Skype-style. This approach to caring for patients with strokes and other neurologic conditions—“telestroke” care or “teleneurology”—is an emerging valuable resource, says Edgar Kenton, MD, who is in the process of expanding such a system at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa.
It’s a hub-and-spoke system, with a central hospital as the “hub” and other hospitals as the “spokes” that connect with the hub, using computers and real-time video. Geisinger has six spokes, with plans for about another half-dozen.
“We’re able to talk to the physician, we can see the patient, we can see the families if they’re there, and get a lot of information,” says Dr. Kenton, director of the stroke program at Geisinger.
It’s crucial to see patients when they’re suspected of having stroke symptoms, he says, so that the neurologist can get crucial insight they can’t get over the phone. With a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, the neurologist can do a consult regardless of location.
Kevin Barrett, MD, assistant professor of neurology and a neurohospitalist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., says he expects that one paradoxical effect of telestroke care is that more patients with neurological conditions ultimately will end up under the care of hospitalists. That’s because centers will be more likely to take on a patient, consult with a neurologist using telestroke care or teleneurology, then admit the patient—after the neurologist has logged off.
“I do think that we are going to see an increase in the number of neurologic-type patients that are cared for primarily by hospitalists,” he says. “I’m there for the acute consultation. But often those patients are then subsequently admitted to a hospitalist service for the very reason that I was called. They don’t have local resources for neurology or a neurohospitalist.
“I actually think there’s going to be more involvement on the hospitalist front for neurologic patients, even patients with neurologic emergencies, because of telemedicine,” Dr. Barrett says. TH
Tom Collins is a freelance writer in South Florida.