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New way of treating strokes buys more time

Douglas County Hospital’s TeleStroke program uses a camera, monitor and computer on wheels – a setup that looks a lot like a robot – to connect with a neurologist at St. Cloud Hospital. Within five to 10 minutes of a patient arriving at the emergency room, the neurologist can begin evaluating a patient suffering a stroke here in Alexandria and coordinating care with the local emergency room physician. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

Time is critical when someone is suffering a stroke and Douglas County Hospital (DCH) staff is using technology to save time and improve a patient’s outcome.

The new TeleStroke program makes a neurologist available to DCH 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Using a camera, monitor and computer on wheels – a setup that looks a lot like a robot – a neurologist at St. Cloud Hospital is connected quickly to evaluate a patient suffering a stroke here in Alexandria.

The remote connection allows the neurologist to instantly examine the patient, review CT scan results and inform the provider and nurse in Alexandria of treatment decisions and sets up for transfer to St. Cloud, if necessary.

Barb Friederichs is a registered nurse, infection preventionist and cancer center director and helped coordinate the TeleStroke launch.

She explained, “We have collaboration where the neurologist on the other side of the camera is working side by side with the emergency room physician, or, if it’s inpatient, working with a hospitalist or physician. Then, they’re making decisions based on that physical assessment of the patient between the two doctors – one in person and one communicating through the telemedicine system.

“We get to buy time this way,” she said. “If we transfer a patient, now it’s a continuation of care; it’s not like we’re waiting to get down [to St. Cloud Hospital] to get the care started. It’s actually been started here; it’s carrying on in transport.”


John and Marge Vit of Alexandria were shopping January 9 and John, 74, told his wife that he was feeling kind of odd.

“I had tunnel vision and my wife said, ‘Maybe we should get you to the doctor.’ I told her, ‘Well, let’s just go have a cup of coffee.’ Well, it wasn’t getting any better and it wasn’t getting any worse,” John said.

They headed home and when John was taking some notes and couldn’t spell the words, Marge said, “We better go to ER.”

John said, “I wanted to take the garbage out first, but she said, ‘No way, we’re going right now.’”

Around 6 p.m., the Vits walked into DCH’s ER and when he said he might be having a stroke, John said the staff sprang into action and took him right back and started doing scans and tests.

He was eventually transferred to St. Cloud Hospital to continue treatment.

“I am pleased with how [DCH staff] handled me. In fact, I’m doing just fine now,” John said.

Marge added, “It was a wonderful experience, if there is such a thing when someone’s having a stroke.”

John was the first patient to use the TeleStroke program at DCH.

“That was just two days after our staff was trained. It was pretty exciting and it was very effective,” Friederichs said.

DCH staff will now assess the hospital’s future options for receiving a stroke hospital designation – Acute Stroke Ready Hospital or Primary Stroke Center.

The Minnesota Department of Health is requiring a designation for all hospitals by 2015.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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