Birmingham, Alabama VA Health Care System
Tele-stroke Program Improves Veterans Care
According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of long term disability among adults. Although there are treatments for patients having a stroke, they are very time sensitive and require emergent evaluation by health care professionals trained in the recognition and management of stroke. For the many residents who live in rural areas of Alabama, Birmingham VA Medical Center’s new tele-stroke program will make better use of those first crucial moments after a stroke by providing around-the-clock access to a neurologist.
Dr. Michael Lyerly, Director of the Birmingham VA Medical Center’s Primary Stroke Center and consultant for the VA National Tele-stroke Program, believes as one of a small number of VA Primary Stroke Centers in the country, Birmingham VA has personnel, processes, and protocols in place to deliver rapid care to Veterans presenting with stroke symptoms. The two-and-a-half-day training he and a group of national tele-stroke experts held at the medical center focusing on recognizing stroke symptoms, ICU simulations, and using the new technology marks the start of the process to further enhance stroke care at the facility.
“Our goal is to take the excellent work that our healthcare providers do to the next level,” said Dr. Lyerly. “We want to find every opportunity that we can to ensure that our Veterans are receiving the highest quality care in a timely and safe manner.”
Recognized as a best practice, VA tele-stroke availability continues to grow and is just one of many telehealth programs available to ensure Veterans receive the health care they deserve, whenever and wherever they need it.
“In just two short years, the VA National Tele-stroke Program has grown to provide acute stroke services in over 30 VA medical centers from Maine to San Juan Puerto Rico, and from coast to coast,” said Dr. Glenn Graham, VHA Deputy National Director of Neurology. Two of those sites include the Charleston and Atlanta VA’s, both a part of the VA Southeast Network. VA Southeast Network leads the nation in number of tele-mental health encounters and is second in the nation for overall tele-health encounters.
The telehealth program allows VA health care teams to treat Veterans regardless of their location, including across state lines.
“The national VA tele-stroke program consists of nearly 20 board certified vascular neurologists or stroke specialists. Although originally intended to focus on providing care for rural focused VA medical centers, the program now provides 24/7 stroke coverage,” shared Dr. Michael Lyerly. “The process allows a stroke neurologist to assist a patient anywhere in the country in short period.”
By building a team of neurologists across the United States, united in their passion to improve the care of Veterans in the first hours after stroke, the VA has developed new technological tools dedicated to the task, such as the Code Stroke mobile app, and have improved the consistency and quality of stroke care in VHA nationally. Furthermore, the NTSP provides continuous quality improvement efforts in the program and at participating facilities through case reviews, educational trainings, and provider simulations.