OPINION: Telestroke program a boost to rural healthcare in MB

Morden-Winkler MLA Cameron Friesen. (AARON SIVERTSON; Sightlines Photograph)

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Last month, our provincial government announced that the Telestroke Program was coming to Boundary Trails Health Centre.
Due to ongoing efforts by healthcare providers and organizations like Heart & Stroke Foundation to educate the public, most people now understand that every moment counts when someone is having a stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada and a leading cause of disability.
Challenges arise, though, when people who need access to the expertise of a stroke neurologist aren’t close enough to Winnipeg where that medical expertise resides.
The Telestroke program responds to this challenge by bringing the expert closer to the patient, with the use of video conferencing and CT image sharing technology. As a result, neurologists with expertise in stroke care and radiologists become accessible to our BTHC Emergency Department doctors on a 24/7 basis. CT scans are performed, blood work is done, and a neurologist assesses the patient remotely, to determine whether the patient can be treated with clot-busting drugs. These drugs are incredibly effective and can see a partial or full recovery of the patient in a matter of hours.
This is another example of how the Manitoba Government is focussed on building a better healthcare system – one that provides the “right care, in the right place, at the right time”. Experts who reviewed Manitoba’s system in recent years pointed out significant variations in provision of care and patient outcomes when you compare urban to rural. What’s needed, they said, is a strong commitment to bridging the gap and creating linkages between specialists and local hospitals, using technology, peer networks, and other strategies.
The Telestroke program is an excellent example of how we are doing that.
Anyone who suspects that they or someone else is having a stroke should call 9-1-1 immediately in order to mobilize the fastest response and get EMS personnel assessing the patient. But there’s another reason to take this step. EMS will radio ahead to provide notice to the hospital of the impending arrival of a stroke victim, which activates the Telestroke protocols and establishes the link to specialists in Winnipeg. Furthermore, under the Telestroke model, a by-pass protocol is activated which enables EMS to go directly to the hospital which offers these hyperacute stroke care services – not just the hospital closest to them. In addition to BTHC, Steinbach and Portage la Prairie hospitals will also now provide the Telestroke service. The model aims to have at least one hospital in each of Manitoba’s five healthcare regions designated as a Telestroke hospital by the end of 2019.
Last week, representatives from Heart & Stroke were at the Legislature to speak to Members of the Assembly about how lives have been saved because of education efforts that have led to a better understand of what to do if stroke is suspected. Just remember FAST:
Face – is it drooping?
Arms – can you raise them?
Speech – is it slurred?
Time – to call 9-1-1 right away.
There’s another related and important initiative we are working on. Manitoba is the only Canadian jurisdiction that doesn’t have a dedicated Acute Stroke Unit. This model concentrates medical professionals with specialization in stroke care around the patient for the period of time immediately following a stroke. This is a leading practice based on the understanding that there is a critical period of time for the patient after a stroke where intensive care and therapy can make a tremendous difference in the level of long-term recovery and independence. The model gets exceptional results. We made a commitment in the previous election to address this. We are working hard to get it done.
Your provincial government is working to better organize our system, reduce wait times, schedule more priority procedures like hip, knee and cataract surgeries, and bridge the distance between rural and urban medicine.
Our commitment to Manitobans is to provide Better Healthcare, Sooner.