Telestroke improves regional stroke care
Professor Ken Butcher (UNSW, Prince of Wales Hospital) and fellow Telestroke consultant Dr Timothy Ang (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital). Photo: Ken Butcher.

Telestroke improves regional stroke care

Every minute counts when a person has a suspected stroke with an initiative overseen by UNSW Sydney academic staff designed to provide patients vital early assistance.

Dubbed ‘Telestroke’ the new system of treatment for stroke patients gives specialists in Sydney the ability to join patients and rural hospital staff in a virtual meeting helping stroke patients in regional areas to be diagnosed and administered first-line therapy within an hour. Professor Ken Butcher is the Director of Clinical Neurosciences at the Prince of Wales Clinical School at UNSW Medicine & Health. He is also the Director of Telestroke that connects stroke specialists in Sydney with one of 12 regional hospital Emergency Departments (EDs) around NSW, which will grow to 23 by the end of the year.

Professor Butcher said the Telestroke project has been in development for over two years, beginning as a “promise made during the last state election”.

“COVID has made implementation a challenge, slowing down our deployment to new sites, as lockdown prevents travel to these. That said, remote delivery of health is now more important than ever.

“Programs like ours are ideally suited to delivery of care once operational and will be a part of the health care system from this point forward.”

For Professor Butcher, Telestroke has been a rewarding program “and one of the more satisfying things I’ve been part of in my career”.

“Some of the more remote communities present their challenges, where the infrastructure (IT) is lacking and the medical work force at the hospitals is more transient, but these have all been overcome.”

Telestroke uses high quality cameras, microphones, AI systems, diagnostic scanning and imaging tools all streaming in real time over a high-speed internet connection, so specialists and ED registrars can work together to quickly determine whether the patient has had a stroke, and if so, decide on the best medical strategy.

Professor Butcher said after using Telestroke to assess and treat more 1,000 patients from regional NSW in the past 12 months, the average time it has taken for a patient to receive potentially life-saving treatment is down to 66 minutes.

“In the past, if someone presented at a regional hospital with stroke-like symptoms, the ED would do a scan and call one of the neuroradiologist doctors in Sydney and then wait for them to tell what the scan shows.

“Then, if necessary, the patient might be airlifted to Sydney – so it could be hours before they get any sort of medical intervention.

“Now the ED doesn’t have to wait for a neuroradiologist in Sydney to make their report. We have a specialist stroke-trained doctor virtually there in the ED room with the doctor and patient. They can see us, we can see them. We can talk to them and know exactly what we’re dealing with – it’s no longer a description over the phone.”

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