For stroke patients, receiving a critical clot-busting drug within 90 minutes of symptoms onset can make all the difference. Those who get the drug within that time frame are three times more likely than other stroke patients to recover with no disability, according to Dr. Lee Schwamm, director of the Partners Telestroke Network at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
A key problem is making sure a neurologist is on duty. It's a dilemma for urban and rural hospitals. Just 2.4% of Medicare patients who had ischemic strokes received the drug in time, Schwamm told a Senate panel last week. Technology, though, can greatly bolster those numbers. After implementing telestroke networks, hospitals at least doubled the number of patients getting the drug in the critical period.
"Telestroke is supported by a wealth of evidence and is a common-sense, cost-effective step that the committee can take to reduce the burden of stroke as a chronic disease," Schwamm said.
Medicare now reimburses telemedicine only in rural areas. Expanding its usage was just one of the topics the Senate Finance Committee explored at the hearing. The committee also heard testimony on how changing rules that govern Medicare Advantage, accountable care organizations and value-based insurance designs could improve health and reduce spending on Medicare patients with multiple chronic conditions.