Next-generation technologies speed up diagnosis for stroke patients

Mayo clinic neurologist Bart Demaerschalk, shown on the screen, uses a telestroke robot to assess a patient at another hospital and confer with the local care team.--Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

As the med tech industry hones in on innovative technologies that can speed up diagnosis for strokes, healthcare providers are harnessing next-generation products to improve outcomes for patients.

Studies have shown that using new strategies to speed up care improves the odds for patients who have a stroke caused by a clot in the brain, and technologies such as videoconferencing and mobile robots have already charted progress in the field, The Wall Street Journal reports. About 800,000 individuals in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year, with 85% of those patients having one caused by blood clots.

But hours can go by before a patient gets to the ER, and tests and CT scans add additional waiting time to diagnosis. Medicines such as tPA, tissue plasminogen activators, can break down blood clots, and a third of patients can undergo endovascular therapy, or ET, where a thin tube is inserted through an artery in the groin to pull out a clot and restore blood flow to the brain.

Neurologists are in short supply and facilities are often overloaded, prompting more hospitals to turn to virtual stroke networks. Staffed by a variety of healthcare providers, the teams employ mobile stroke units with video technology that allows neurologists to look at a patient en route to the hospital, providing treatment earlier and cutting down on lost time. The Cleveland Clinic launched a mobile stroke unit last year which comprises a portable CT scanner that wirelessly transmits the patient's brain image to main campus for review by experts.

Mayo Clinic is also getting in on the effort with its Telestroke Network. The network has three hubs in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota which serve 38 hospitals in 9 states, using technology such as robots with screens to avoid long and expensive transports and treat patients closer to home. Remote consultations are "the next best thing to having a live stroke team and in terms of time we are just as fast," Bart Demaerschalk, a neurologist and medical director of Mayo Clinic's Center for Connected Care in Phoenix, told the WSJ.

The push for new technology comes as devicemakers cast their eye toward next-generation products that can help diagnose strokes. Last year, AliveCor won an FDA OK for its algorithm which tells patients whether they're experiencing atrial fibrillation based on a 30-second measurement of the pulse through the fingertips. The 2014 Fierce 15 company touts its mobile electrocardiogram device as a time and money saver, as it can detect an early warning sign for strokes. Earlier this year, Samsung announced that it developed a prototype of an app and headset that could record and analyze electrical impulses in the brain to quickly determine a patient's chance of having a stroke.

- read the WSJ story (sub. req.)

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