Telestroke services evaluations allow experts to check patients virtually

Stroke is a leading cause of lifelong disability and affects about 800,000 Americans each year. While diagnosing a stroke quickly is key, it can be tough in a crowded emergency room, leading many hospitals to turn to telestroke services.

There are four symptoms that make up the non-technical acronym to identify a stroke: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time. The acronym is FAST and that's how ERs need to work to treat stroke patients.

Dr. Kristin Miller at University of Michigan Health showed us a virtual stroke evaluation. The program brings stroke experts like Miller into an emergency room, virtually.

"Telestroke are essential services for hospitals, because not every hospital is going to have access to or resources for a stroke expert. Using telestroke, we can offer that bedside evaluation and acute treatments, time-sensitive interventions to these patients virtually," Miller said.

Since the telestroke program started at University of Michigan Health in 2016, it has expanded to cover 10 hospitals across the state, and about 50% of emergency departments in the U.S. have access to the telestroke network.

"Telestroke services are basically a way to bring a neurologist, a stroke expert to the bedside of a patient presenting to their local ER with stroke symptoms, just virtually. We will review imaging, oftentimes evaluate a patient, and can offer treatment based on their symptoms and presentation and if it's appropriate," Miller said.

The high-level evaluation in the emergency room can make a real difference for someone dealing with a stroke -- which can be misdiagnosed.

"A stroke is usually a blockage of an artery in the brain that causes lack of blood flow to a certain area of the brain and death of those cells. Many times, stroke symptoms will depend on where in the brain that artery is blocked. So, you can have anywhere from speech difficulties to vision difficulties to weakness on one side of your body. There are strokes that can cause bleeding in the brain, but most strokes are a lack of blood flow problem," Miller said.