When it comes to a stroke, minutes passed mean millions of brain cells lost, doctors say. But in the East Valley, Banner Desert Medical Center is looking to shorten the time for emergency room patients to receive clot-busting drugs after a stroke.

The solution is to connect emergency room doctors and patients with neurologists through a virtual, secure video consultation. The “telestroke” program is in partnership with Specialists on Call, Inc. and will allow emergency room doctors to deliver clot-dissolving medication faster.

“This new service saves our patients precious time and delivers expert neurological care to the patients who need it most,” said Dr. Jacqueline Carter, Banner Desert Medical Center stroke director. “It’s a novelty in our area, but it isn’t in many places in the country.”

Banner Desert is believed to be the first hospital in the Phoenix area to provide this type of service. Through virtual consultation, stroke victims at Banner Desert Medical Center will receive faster care for a stroke.

“In the case of stroke, time is brain and every minute a patient is losing millions of brain cells,” Carter said. “We are minimizing the amount of brain cells lost by delivering tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) faster.”

TPA is the medication used to treat stroke, which dissolves blood clots, however, it must be delivered within a maximum of four and a half hours of the onset of the stroke, Carter said.

For times when there isn’t an in-house neurologist available, an on-call neurologist must be called, Carter said. Usually this consultation happens over the phone and that can lead to misdiagnoses.

“A number of studies have shown that a virtual exam and in-person exam are essentially the same,” Carter said. Over-the-phone exams with a physician aren’t as reliable, since the neurologist can’t have a bedside consultation. Instead, the doctor has to be told about the symptoms.

Currently, the hospital has a “door-to-treatment” time of about 80 to 85 minutes, but with the “telestroke” platform, Banner Desert is hoping to reduce that time to within an hour, Carter said.

“This platform should help improve that time,” she said.

The hospital has partnered with Specialists on Call, a medical organization that connects hospitals with specialists through a secure video conferencing call.

“Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death, but the first cause of disability,” Carter said. “We’re hoping to decrease the degree of disability and potentially save a life,” she said.

In the next few decades, doctors expect to see more strokes as a large portion of the country ages, Carter said. Stroke is usually seen in older people.

“In the next 20 to 25 years, as the baby boomers get older and live longer, stroke will be a problem,” Carter said.

The symptoms of stroke are:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Anyone experiencing or witnessing any of these symptoms should call 911 immediately.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5645 or sspring@evtrib.com

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