Hospitals across Lancashire and Cumbria are using a new fibre-optic network and videoconferencing technology to treat patients suffering from a stroke, which is set to save the NHS over £8m a year.
Virgin Media Business is providing eight hospitals in the area with the technology to create a network of 15 specialist doctors that will now be able to diagnose stroke victims, enabling on-site nurses to administer the specialist medication they need, Thrombolysis, out of hospital hours.
"In the late 2000s the NHS started to take the Thrombolysis programme very seriously and almost every hospital in the country now has either a developing or established service," explained Dr Shuja Punekar, Consultant Physician of Cerebro-Vascular Medicine.
"Until this network came into place we were only Thrombolysing patients who came in during office hours. So if a patient came in at midnight or 2am they would not get treated until the next day, and this treatment for strokes is extremely time critical," he added.
"The Telestroke network has enabled a resource of stroke physicians that is now available 24 hours a day, every single day of the year."
The specialist doctors are able to deliver care using a dedicated laptop in their home that has videoconferencing facilities and connects via a secure router to the network.
Portable videoconferencing hardware, dubbed Telecart, is positioned at the patient's bedside in A&E, which enables the doctor to provide treatment remotely. Each hospital has at least one Telecart available and Dr Punekar estimates that the entire project cost in the region of £250,000.
The idea for the project started back in 2008 and the network began to be deployed in January of this year.
"We have been running the Telestroke service for six weeks now, and during the week, on average, we get up to four calls. Over the weekend we get a lot more because it covers a full 48-hour period," said Dr Punekar.
"The main challenge with setting this up is related to the clinical governance side of things – making sure the right patient gets the right treatment and ensuring we don't make mistakes with patient confidentiality," he added.
"However, I think people recognised that this was the best way to deliver an effective treatment and we tackled a lot of the concerns by ensuring that the laptops in the doctors' homes have absolutely nothing on them except Internet Explorer [patient details are recorded in the hospitals] and the software needed to operate the videoconferencing".
In addition to £8m per year worth of savings it is anticipated that 24 more patients will survive a stroke each year thanks to the new service, 40 more patients will recover with no symptoms and 30 fewer patients per year will require full-time care.
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