Carlinville Area Hospital participates with Hospital Sisters Health System Tele-Stroke program helps more than 1,500 emergency room stroke patients receive critical care

A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs from a sudden interruption of blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, leaking blood into the spaces surrounding the brain cells.

One of the most important goals of stroke awareness is increasing public recognition of stroke symptoms and the importance of getting immediate emergency medical assistance. When stroke patients receive approved medications within three hours of their first symptoms, they have a significantly reduced risk of experiencing permanent brain damage and long-term disability.

Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) hospitals are on the leading edge of providing advanced care for people experiencing a stroke. In the first three years of a new telemedicine program led by HSHS, more than 1,500 emergency room stroke patients in Illinois received critical care they need to recover from potentially life-threatening and debilitating strokes. The service, described by doctors as “tele-stroke care,” provides access to neurology specialists that may be more than 100 miles away.

Led by HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville and HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, 24/7 tele-stroke services are now provided by 14 mostly rural hospitals, including Carlinville Area Hospital. In addition, when a stroke patient arrives in the emergency department and a neurology specialist consult is requested, response times are an average of three minutes or less—a stellar record when minutes could count in saving a life.

Tele-stroke care facilitates a patient and neurologist encounter, even though the two may be separated by a great distance. The remote presence neurologist examines the patient using sophisticated videoconference and other medical equipment, speaks with clinicians and family members, reviews CT scans and other tests, and supports emergency treatment decisions with documentation in the medical record.

Alison Kennedy, MHA, BSN, RN, SCRN, LSSBB, Director of Clinical Service Lines, HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, explained: “Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, but with provider shortages, many rural hospitals have no access to stroke specialists.” She added, “Remote presence neurologists can evaluate patients for tPA, a clot-busting drug that can reduce death and disability from stroke. We often say, ‘time is brain,’ because minutes can be critical to saving lives and reducing disability. When appropriate, the tPA treatment must be administered within a brief window of a few hours after stroke symptoms begin.”

Chris Schmidt, BSN, RN, ITN Network Director, and Regional Stroke and Telemedicine Nurse Coordinator at HSHS St. John’s Hospital said, “Emergency room staff have been astonished that the project has achieved stroke specialist response times of three minutes or less. We find that our tele-stroke care helps expedite treatment decisions, save lives, reduce disability, and also helps many patients avoid unnecessary transfers.” She added, “It’s so gratifying to be able to save lives and improve outcomes with lightning-fast response times, especially in rural communities.”

The tele-stroke hospitals have formed a collaborative called the Illinois Telehealth Network, and Kennedy serves on the board and Schmidt serves as the network’s director. The network’s mission is to “improve access to health care, in rural, underserved and disadvantaged communities, through the application of telehealth and telemedicine solutions.” Kennedy added, “It’s all about increasing rural access to quality care.”

Emergency stroke care through tele-medicine are provided at all the hospitals in the Southern Illinois Division of Hospital Sisters Health System, which includes HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, HSHS Holy Family Hospital in Greenville, and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland.