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updated: 5/16/2014 5:35 AM

Video conferencing helps hospital treat stroke patients fast

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When Terry Jane's 83-year-old mother Lois started having stroke symptoms last month, he was thankful she was already at Northwest Community Hospital for an appointment.

He was even more thankful that through video technology, doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago were able to quickly examine his mother from her hospital bed in Arlington Heights and prescribe a course of treatment.

The video conferencing was made possible through REACH -- Remote Evaluation of Acute Ischemic Stroke -- which works like Skype. Northwest Community Hospital just implemented the Telestroke REACH technology in April, which allows a neurologist from Northwestern to see patients via video, evaluate their symptoms and determine if they are candidates for the clot-busting medication that must be delivered in the early stages of a stroke.

Before the telestroke technology, patients would need to wait to see one of only a few neurologists on staff at Northwest Community. By partnering with the larger Northwestern medical system, patients have access to specialists around the clock.

"Now there is no shortage of physicians to evaluate the patients at a very expert level of care," said Ali Shaibani, director of neuroInterventional surgery at the hospital.

"In stroke, every minute counts," he said, adding that patients can lose 1.9 million brain cells per minute during a stroke.

Aside from being able to see and speak to the patient, the doctor can remotely review CT scans, medical history and medications, officials said.

While the technology is not new, it is more commonly used in rural communities to bring expert care to small hospitals. In the case of Northwest Community, it is another way officials are trying to expand the reach of the independent Arlington Heights hospital that's decided not to merge with a larger health system.

The technology was brought to Northwest through a grant and partnership with Northwestern.

"I thought it was fantastic," said Terry Jane, who lives in Elk Grove Village. His mother, who lives in Schaumburg, is out of the hospital and recovering well, he said.

"The more opinions and specialists you have at a time like that, the better," Jane said. "It was like something you see on TV; it was so high-tech."

Shaibani said doctors are seeing more and more strokes as the baby boomer generation continues to age, but the number of strokes in young people also is increasing.

An acronym to remember, Shaibani said, is FAST: F for face, which is often where symptoms begin showing, with one side of the face drooping or frozen; A, for arm, because in stroke patients one arm can become paralyzed or unable to move; S for speech, because if a patient is experiencing altered or incomprehensible speech it could be a sign of a stroke; and T for time, which Shaibani said can be a major factor between life or death in cases of stroke.

As for what might have happened if Lois had begun having a stroke at home, where she lives alone, or if it had taken hours to get her in front of a specialist, instead of minutes, Jane said, "I don't even want to think about it."

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