By Mariia Kovalova
The number of people suffering from neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and stroke is rapidly growing. At the same time, a shortage of neurology professionals becomes more severe at an alarming speed. The number of neurologists already doesn’t cover the demand for their services, and they are also distributed unevenly, creating so-called “neurological deserts” where patients don’t have access to quality neurological care.
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) agrees that the problem is going to worsen every following year. While the long-term solution includes creating financial motivation and more accessible training for medical professionals, for the time being, healthcare organizations often employ teleneurology to compensate for the lack of specialists.
The variety of teleneurology applications
There aren’t many individual-use apps for patients who are at risk of stroke or have already suffered from it because this condition cannot be mitigated without medical intervention. Therefore, such solutions mostly come down to:
- Risk assessment apps that determine users’ predisposition for cerebrovascular accidents based on their health data
- Educational apps that provide information about the signs of stroke and the measures that people without professional medical training can take to help a stroke patient
- Lifestyle apps that help patients track their cardiovascular health, medication, and other vital components of stroke management
- Communication apps that connect patients with doctors, who can swiftly diagnose a cerebrovascular accident and give recommendations for further actions
More sophisticated telestroke solutions facilitate healthcare professionals’ collaboration. ER doctors or primary care physicians usually use them to consult their more specialized colleagues. This way, stroke patients can be properly diagnosed and treated before reaching the specialized hospital.
A study carried out in Germany showed that with sufficient audio and video quality, a neurology specialist can examine, diagnose, and make treatment decisions about a patient remotely as effectively as on-site. Consequently, neurologists can support their colleagues in multiple ways using teleneurology apps:
- Examining and diagnosing the patients remotely via video consultation without the use of specialized equipment (e.g., in the emergency vehicle)
- Advising on the best usage of the specialized equipment and presenting their opinion based on the test results and information provided about the patient by a first-line responder medic (either via audio, video, or text communication)
- Providing a second opinion and holding a medical council with an on-site neurologist when it’s difficult to diagnose or plan treatment
Teleneurology for stroke: software must-haves
In emergency cases, neurologists can conduct remote consultations via regular messaging systems like Skype or Messenger. Still, if neurology professionals provide such services daily or weekly, custom teleneurology solutions could fit better. Let’s explore which capabilities a telehealth solution for stroke management must possess and why.
Teleneurology solutions were designed specifically to provide uninterrupted communication between a medical professional tending to the patient, and a neurologist. Besides high-quality video capabilities that are often necessary for accurate diagnosis, teleneurology solutions have a fallback system that ensures that the consultation will continue via a phone even if signal quality will be too low to support a video call. This is vital in stroke management because time is of the essence and cannot be wasted on re-establishing the lost connection.
Additionally, telehealth software can possess referral management and electronic prescription features. This allows a neurologist to quickly transfer a stroke patient to the proper facility and provide a valid prescription during the online consultation, while an on-site medical professional might not have the license to do so.
Monitoring and analysis
Telehealth software can be integrated with remote patient monitoring (RPM) software. Specialized medical devices and common health apps can deliver real-time information about the patient’s cardiovascular functions. This helps medical professionals assess patients’ condition during the remote evaluation and diagnose the stage of the stroke or warn patients and their caregivers about the potential onset of cerebrovascular accident.
The analytical module of the telehealth solution can process information from RPM devices, EHR, and other integrated medical systems. This way, remote neurologists and on-site medical professionals can view comprehensive patient health reports and make more informed clinical decisions faster.
Another vital difference between specialized telestroke software and a general-use messenger is the level of data protection. In addition to common security mechanisms like two-step authorization, telehealth solutions employ more secure data transfer and communication protocols and allow role-based access to different software functions and data types. Such solutions are usually designed and developed with industry regulations like HIPAA in mind so that neurologists providing remote consultations wouldn’t face penalties.
Teleneurology solutions’ goal is to speed up and coordinate the efforts of medical teams during various stages of care for stroke patients. They help provide more specialized neurological help to patients who live in regions where hospitals don’t have neurology professionals and departments. Licensed neurologists can also remotely aid emergency response teams in accurately diagnosing patients and prescribing relevant medications promptly. Telemedicine solutions also enable neurologists to refer patients to facilities with all the necessary equipment available to treat their stroke.
Mariia Kovalova is a Healthcare Technology Researcher at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver. Having working experience with both healthcare and IT industry, she is constantly on the lookout for technologies that will help providers optimize their processes, enhance patient experiences, and build up more resilience.