The South Island’s new telestroke service has been launched between the West Coast and Christchurch, giving more people faster access to potentially life-saving acute stroke treatment.
Using dedicated video-conferencing and CT image technology, the telestroke service enables neurologists and stroke specialists to provide advice and support via video link to doctors treating stroke patients in smaller centres and after hours.
Dr Teddy Wu, one of six neurologists at Christchurch Hospital, says the service has transformed stroke care. “This is real-time care – it’s like watching a movie and giving instructions. While we can’t touch the patient, we can ask the doctor to examine them on our behalf. Potentially, one of the key aspects is deciding whether we need to fly them to Christchurch Hospital for a clot removal procedure. What this means is, more people who experience paralysis from a major stroke will be able to walk out of hospital within a few days.”
Following the successful 2016 telestroke pilot between Wellington and four smaller centres, including Nelson and Wairau in the South Island, the Ministry of Health provided funding for the equipment and implementation costs for a similar service across the South Island. Through the South Island Alliance, the five South Island DHBs developed a hub-and-spoke model, comprising six ‘spoke’ hospitals (Grey Base, Timaru, Oamaru, Dunedin, Dunstan and Southland) supported by a ‘hub’ hospital (Christchurch). If a person presents to a ‘spoke’ hospital emergency department (ED) with a suspected stroke, the local ED team can notify an on-call neurologist or stroke specialist at Christchurch Hospital, who can then read the patient’s CT scan, provide advice and make a diagnosis.
The South Island telestroke service will help to ensure smaller communities can access the same 24/7 neurological expertise and care as city patients. Ideally, it will also lead to more South Islanders receiving the life-saving clot retrieval procedure, which is currently available only at Christchurch Hospital.Dr Wu anticipates the remainder of the South Island telestroke service will be linked up by the end of the year.