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Hospital Sisters Health System Tele-Stroke Program Helps More Than 1,500 Emergency Room Stroke Patients Receive Critical Care

May is National Stroke Month, a month dedicated to raise awareness about the nation’s third leading cause of death and leading cause of disability.  A stroke is a "brain attack" that occurs from a sudden interruption of blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, leaking blood into the spaces surrounding the brain cells.

One of the most important goals of National Stroke Awareness Month is increasing public recognition of stroke symptoms and the importance of getting immediate emergency medical assistance. When stroke patients receive approved medications within three hours of their first symptoms, they have a significantly reduced risk of experiencing permanent brain damage and long-term disability.

Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) hospitals are on the leading edge of providing advanced care for people experiencing a stroke. In the first three years of a new telemedicine program led by HSHS, more than 1,500 emergency room stroke patients in Illinois received critical care they need to recover from potentially life-threatening and debilitating strokes. The service, described by doctors as “tele-stroke care,” provides access to neurology specialists that may be more than 100 miles away.

Led by HSHS St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville and HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, 24/7 tele-stroke services are now provided by 14 mostly rural hospitals.  In addition, when a stroke patient arrives in the emergency department and a neurology specialist consult is requested, response times are an average of three minutes or less—a stellar record when minutes could count in saving a life.

Tele-stroke care facilitates a patient and neurologist encounter, even though the two may be separated by a great distance. The remote presence neurologist examines the patient using sophisticated videoconference and other medical equipment, speaks with clinicians and family members, reviews CT scans and other tests, and supports treatment decisions with documentation in the medical record.

“Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, but with provider shortages, many rural hospitals have no access to stroke specialists,” said Alison Kennedy, MHA, BSN, RN, SCRN, LSSBB, director of clinical service lines at HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. “Remote presence neurologists can evaluate patients for tPA, a clot-busting drug that can reduce death and disability from stroke. We often say, ‘time is brain,’ because minutes can be critical to saving lives and reducing disability. When appropriate, the tPA treatment must be administered within a brief window of a few hours after stroke symptoms begin.”

“Many people are astonished that the tele-stroke project has achieved stroke specialist response times of three minutes or less,” said Chris Schmidt, BSN, RN, ITN Network director and regional stroke and telemedicine nurse coordinator at HSHS St. John’s Hospital. “We find that our tele-stroke care helps expedite treatment decisions, save lives, reduce disability, and also helps many patients avoid unnecessary transfers. It’s so gratifying to be able to save lives and improve outcomes with lightning-fast response times, especially in rural communities.”

Tele-stroke hospitals have formed a collaborative called the Illinois Telehealth Network. Kennedy serves on the board, and Schmidt serves as the network’s director. The network’s mission is to improve access to health care in rural, underserved, disadvantaged communities through the application of telehealth and telemedicine solutions. “It’s all about increasing rural access to quality care,” said Kennedy.

Illinois Telehealth Network hospitals with 24/7 tele-stroke emergency department coverage include:
  1. Boyd Memorial Hospital (Carrollton)
  2. Carlinville Area Hospital (Carlinville)
  3. Hillsboro Area Hospital (Hillsboro)
  4. HSHS St. Elizabeth's Hospital (Belleville)
  5. HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital, formerly Shelby Memorial Hospital (Shelbyville)
  6. HSHS Holy Family Hospital, formerly Greenville Regional Hospital (Greenville)
  7. HSHS St. John’s Hospital (Springfield)
  8. HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital (Highland)
  9. HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital (Breese)
  10. HSHS St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital (Effingham)
  11. HSHS St. Mary's Hospital (Decatur)
  12. HSHS St. Francis Hospital (Litchfield)
  13. Mason District Hospital (Havana)
  14. Pana Community Hospital (Pana).
Emergency stroke care through tele-medicine are provided at all the hospitals in the Southern Illinois Division of HSHS, which includes HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, HSHS Holy Family Hospital in Greenville and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland.


About HSHS St. John’s Hospital
HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois is a regional medical center offering a comprehensive array of health care services to central and southern Illinois. Founded in 1875, St. John’s is the flagship hospital of Hospital Sisters Health System and is home to the Prairie Heart Institute, St. John’s Children’s Hospital, St. John’s Women’s Services, St. John’s Neurosciences Institute, St. John’s Cancer Institute, orthopedic services and AthletiCare. St. John’s now has one of the most advanced surgery centers in the nation and a renovated patient tower with all private rooms. St. John’s is designated as a level I trauma center, has its own college of nursing and is a teaching hospital for the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. For more information about St. John’s Hospital, visit www.st-johns.org.
About Hospital Sisters Health System
Hospital Sisters Health System’s (HSHS) mission is to reveal and embody Christ’s healing love for all people through our high quality Franciscan health care ministry. HSHS provides state-of-the-art health care to our patients and is dedicated to serving all people, especially the most vulnerable, at each of our 15 local systems and physician practices in Illinois (Belleville, Breese, Decatur, Effingham, Greenville, Highland, Litchfield, Shelbyville and Springfield) and Wisconsin (Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Oconto Falls, Sheboygan and two in Green Bay).  HSHS is sponsored by Hospital Sisters Ministries, and Hospital Sisters of St. Francis is the founding institute. For more information about HSHS, visit www.hshs.org. For more information about Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, visit www.hospitalsisters.org.  

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