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A stroke of brilliance for telemedicine

Monash academics are leading a project that will allow specialist neurologists in Melbourne to treat acute stroke patients in Bendigo with a super effective clot-busting drug.

Professor Christopher Bladin, lead investigator in the Victorian Stroke Telemedicine (VST) project, said the drug tPA dissolved blood clots in brain arteries, significantly reducing brain injury and even death in patients suffering from acute stroke.

However, the treatment has significant medical risks and is usually only administered by specialist neurologists who are generally based in larger cities.

The three-year VST project will use telemedicine to link neurologists to the Bendigo Hospital so they can assess acute stroke patients remotely and communicate with local medical staff to determine appropriate treatment.

The State Government announced this month that it would contribute $600,000 funding to the $2.13 million project as part of the Victorian Science Agenda Investment Fund.

Dr Ian Mosley, senior lecturer in Monash’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, is coordinating the project. He explained that it piggybacks on existing telemedicine infrastructure currently used to deliver specialist trauma care to Bendigo patients from the trauma unit at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

The technology includes super fast broadband, brain imaging technology, video conferencing and high definition cameras.

Neurologists will provide 24 hour on-call service via telemedicine equipment set up in their homes and offices. Professor Bladin said he hoped to eventually develop a mobile wireless capacity so neurologists could be linked to the Bendigo Hospital even when they were travelling or moving around.

Stroke is the second biggest cause of death in Australia and the greatest cause of adult disability.

Leading Australian metropolitan hospitals treat up to 20 per cent of stroke victims with tPA while the Bendigo Hospital currently treats less than two per cent of stroke patients with the drug.

According to Dr Mosley, a major goal of the project is to increase the tPA administration rate from two per cent to over 10 per cent within the three years of the project. In addition, delay times from the onset of symptoms to stroke diagnosis and treatment for acute stroke patients should be reduced.

Dr Mosley also expected that stroke treatment via telemedicine could be rolled out to other regional Victorian centres using the same model of care over the next few years.
The project will begin treating patients in Bendigo by March 2010.

The State Government of Victoria, Department of Innovation Industry and Regional Development is a major funding contributor of the VST through the Victorian Science Agenda Fund. The consortium of contributing partner organisations is led by the Florey Neuroscience Institutes and includes the Department of Health, National Stroke Foundation, Bendigo Health, Loddon Mallee Rural Health Alliance and Ambulance Victoria.

Professor Christopher Bladin

Professor Christopher Bladin