Huntsville Hospital launches North Alabama Neuro-Stroke Network

A new Huntsville Hospital venture into the growing field of telemedicine is improving stroke care across North Alabama. The North Alabama Neuro-Stroke Network launched recently at Madison Hospital, Marshall Medical Center North in Guntersville and Marshall Medical Center South in Boaz. Five other Huntsville Hospital Health System affiliates will join the network later this year.

When a stroke victim arrives at a Neuro-Stroke Network hospital, emergency room physicians and nurses gather the person’s medical history, conduct an initial stroke assessment and order a CT brain scan. The scan provides detailed images of any blood clots, damage or bleeding within the brain. If the hospital does not have a neurologist available, the telemedicine component of the program kicks in. One of Huntsville Hospital’s six staff neurologists will remotely examine the patient – day or night – using live, two-way video.

The high-definition “tele-stroke” camera system allows neurologists in Huntsville to see and talk to the patient in real time, review their CT scan results and collaborate with physicians and nurses at the network hospital on a treatment plan.

“There aren’t enough neurologists in the region to have one available at all hours at each hospital,” said neurologist Amit Arora, MD, medical director of the North Alabama Neuro-Stroke Network. “Using telemedicine, our neurologists can examine stroke patients in outlying areas and help the local hospital make a timely decision. This gives the patient a chance to receive treatment faster.”

The goal is to remotely examine stroke patients and facilitate treatment within an hour of their arrival at a network hospital. The network will grow later this year with the addition Huntsville Hospital Health System affiliates Athens-Limestone Hospital, Decatur Morgan Hospital’s Decatur and Parkway campuses, Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield and Red Bay Hospital.
It is the first time most Health System campuses have joined together in a system-wide approach to patient care.

“We have seven different medical staffs, seven different ERs and multiple hospital administrators all working together as a team,” said Dr. Arora. “That’s really unique.”

The telemedicine program comes along at a critical time: Stroke is now the fifth-leading cause of death nationally and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability. Alabamians are particularly at risk due to lifestyle factors such as fried foods and lack of exercise. The state is part of the so-called Stroke Belt – a region of high stroke mortality stretching from Texas to the Carolinas.

“Alabama is really the buckle of the Stroke Belt,” said Dr. Arora.