The stroke treatment service helping rural patients faster than major city hospitals in NSW

The stroke treatment service helping rural patients faster than major city hospitals in NSW

The doctors at Lismore used the service to video call a specialist neurologist at Gosford Hospital more than 650 kilometers away, who quickly diagnosed the lump on Whelan’s brain scan as a blood clot, and recommended treatment to break up the clots .

“I can’t thank them enough,” said Whelan, now 80. “They saved my life.”

Brian Whelan has fully recovered from his stroke in June last year. Credit: Natalie Grono

The clot-busting treatment – ​​known as thrombolytic therapy – involves injecting a medication called tissue plasminogen activator to break up the blood clot.

This type of treatment is only a viable option when a stroke is diagnosed within a short period of time and a stroke specialist can determine – through brain imaging – that the patient has a specific type of blood flow pattern.

Whelan’s GP later told him that he was incredibly lucky to receive the treatment he did.

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Whelan said: “Without it, [I] would probably have needed full-time care in a nursing home.”

Instead, Whelan has largely recovered and is back playing golf twice a week.

Professor Ken Butcher, medical director of the NSW Telestroke Service and director of clinical neuroscience at Prince of Wales Hospital, said there was “a geographic bias in access to treatment and better outcomes for stroke patients in metropolitan cities”.

“In rural and regional areas, the care pathways were very slow and many patients who could potentially be treated were not,” he said.

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“This service levels the playing field … It really has been a game changer.”

The service, which launched at Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbor hospitals in March 2020, even outperformed some metropolitan services, with four in 10 Telestroke patients treated within one hour of arriving at hospital – known as the “golden hour”, said Butcher.

He said the service’s median treatment time was around 65 minutes, significantly shorter than the around 90 minute median for most major hospitals across Australia.

Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor said the service had changed stroke treatment outside the big cities.

“Innovative models of care such as Telestroke have transformed healthcare in rural and regional NSW, allowing patients to be treated in their communities faster than ever before,” she said.

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