This is a use of fairly straightforward IT, teleconferencing, that saves lives and money through making it much easier for consultants to decide which drug to prescribe victims in the three hours after a stroke takes place.
Dr Damian Jenkinson said that letting groups of hospitals share stroke consultants, who use videoconferencing to examine patients and view brain scans, increases the use of clot-busting drugs.
There are too few consultants to provide round-the-clock cover at every major hospital in person, he told the Mobile and Wireless Healthcare conference in Birmingham: “We need network solutions to make this happen.”
Consultants aim to use the clot-busting drugs within three hours of a stroke taking place, as they help arrest the rapid death of brain cells caused by the condition.
Jenkinson, who is national clinical lead for the NHS Stroke Improvement Programme, said Lancashire and Cumbria had calculated that it would be able to provide the drugs to 400 patients from the 4,000 stroke admissions the area makes each year, rather than 20 as at present. In doing so it would save £2m annually, in return for one-off spending of £285,000 and annual costs of £115,000, with the savings including reduced hospital stays.
The NHS has already established several ‘telestroke’ networks, including a group of nine hospitals in the east of England and three hospitals in east Kent. Jenkinson is consultant stroke physician at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch foundation trust, which is not within any of the networks but does enable consultants to view brain scans remotely.
Research in Germany has shown that of the patients treated with these drugs by a group of networked hospitals, 56% are ‘independent’ after three months, having avoided death or debilitating injuries from their stroke. The Tempis research found this figure was just 46% at a control group of non-networked hospitals.
Jenkinson said the use of telehealth technologies could provide strong benefits in treating other serious conditions. The Veterans’ Health Association in the US has found it reduced hospital bed days for patients over 65 by a quarter through the use of such systems.
But he claimed that telehealth systems, unlike telecare technology such as emergency pendants, are sparsely used in the UK. “We’re lagging in global terms,” he said.
Greater use of telehealth would help meet the government’s Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention agenda, he said, adding that the Whole System Demonstrator projects in England will shortly start providing examples which should help justify the initial spending required.
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