Telestroke Program Closes Gaps in Treatment, Increases Access to Timely Stroke Remedy

PASADENA, Calif.  The use of a life-saving clot-dissolving treatment for patients with acute ischemic stroke increased by 73 percent following the implementation of a telestroke program designed to help community medical centers, according to a study published today in The Permanente Journal.

Stroke is a major cause of death and a leading cause of serious long-term disability in the United States. Acute ischemic stroke, the most common type, is caused by a clot obstructing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, which can result in the death of brain cells.

Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the only FDA-approved treatment for acute ischemic stroke; however it is often underutilized because the treatment’s success depends on how quickly it can be administered.

The telestroke program allows emergency physicians in community hospitals to activate a neurologist at a remote location, such as a designated stroke center, often before the suspected stroke patient arrives via ambulance to the emergency department. Diagnostic images of the patient’s brain are available instantly to both the emergency and remote physicians via electronic health record, and the neurologist can assess the patient visually using video technology, all of which shaves precious minutes off the time it takes to determine if the patient is a candidate for tPA. That drug, to be effective, must be administered within 60 minutes of the onset of stroke symptoms, and it is more effective the sooner it is delivered.

“Our findings add to the existing body of evidence supporting the value of telestroke programs for improving tPA administration rates among ischemic stroke patients at community hospitals, which may have limited resources or access to neurological expertise,” explained Adam L. Sharp MD, MS, study lead author, Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation.

Telehealth, which includes the telestroke program covered in this research, helps fill gaps in care through the use of telecommunication technologies to provide long-distance medical information and services. The use of these services has surged recently as technology has improved and health care organizations look to provide specialized services to help meet patient needs.

The study evaluated 2,657 patients at 11 Kaiser Permanente medical centers in Southern California – 10 community medical centers plus the largest volume stroke center and only facility with a designated stroke neurologist – that implemented a telestroke program between August 2013 and December 2014. Prior to program implementation, eight of the community medical centers were significantly less likely to administer tPA to ischemic stroke patients compared to the large volume stroke center. After telestroke implementation, all facilities were at least as likely to administer tPA as the highest volume stroke center, with one facility performing even better.

Researchers also found:

  • The use of tPA increased from 6.3 percent among acute ischemic stroke patients before telestroke implementation to almost 11 percent after implementation;
  • Overall bleeding complications did not rise and were overall slightly lower after telestroke was implemented (5.1 percent versus 4.9 percent);
  • Two key quality measures improved: median time for a patient to receive diagnostic imaging was reduced from 56 to 44 minutes, and the time to tPA administration for those eligible was reduced from 66 to 55 minutes.

Other authors of the study include Kori Sauser-Zachrison, MD, with the Department of Emergency Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital; Ernest Shen PhD, and Michael K. Gould MD, with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation; Navdeep Sangha, MD, and Zahra Ajani, MD, with the Department of Neurology, Los Angeles Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Southern California; William P. Neil, MD, with the Department of Neurology, San Diego Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Southern California; and Dustin Ballard, MD, with the Department of Emergency Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

About the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation

The Department of Research & Evaluation conducts high-quality, innovative research into disease etiology, prevention, treatment and care delivery. Investigators conduct epidemiologic research, health services research, biostatistics research, and behavioral research as well as clinical trials. Major areas of study include chronic disease, infectious disease, cancer, drug safety and effectiveness, and maternal and child health. Headquartered in Pasadena, California, the department focuses on translating research to practice quickly to benefit the health and lives of Kaiser Permanente Southern California members and the general public. Visit

About Kaiser Permanente

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