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Roper St. Francis, MUSC form partnership for stroke care

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“When you’re having a stroke, every single minute matters,” said Dr. Erin Sparks, a neurology hospitalist at Roper St. Francis. “1.9 million neurons, or brain cells, are destroyed each minute that passes when you’re having a large stroke. This is why we say ‘time is brain.’" (Photo/Sarah Pack, MUSC)

Roper St. Francis neurologists have joined their counterparts at the Medical University of South Carolina to begin providing care to stroke patients using telehealth technology.

On Friday, the two hospital systems announced a partnership that adds two Roper St. Francis neurologists to MUSC’s S.C. Telestroke Alliance. That brings the total up to 13 doctors who rotate being on call and available to evaluate and treat stroke patients.

Roper St. Francis COO Matt Severance (left) talks with MUSC Health CEO Dr. Patrick Cawley after the announcement of a stroke partnership between the two hospital systems. (Photo/Sarah Pack, MUSC)Dr. Christine Holmstedt, medical director of MUSC Health’s Clinical Stroke Services, said most community hospitals don’t have neurologists and stroke neurologists.

“They’re difficult to come by; so that was the whole point of pooling our resources,” she said. “If every hospital tried to recruit enough stroke docs to cover their stroke program, they’d be bankrupt. If you share resources and everyone joins together, then it reduces the cost for hospitals. It reduces the cost for patients. It’s a win for everybody.”

The S.C. Telestroke Alliance allows neurologists at one hospital to connect to a portal on a mobile cart located at the other hospital. The carts include cameras, microphones and speakers so the doctor and patient can see and talk to each other. 

“When you’re having a stroke, every single minute matters,” said Dr. Erin Sparks, a neurology hospitalist at Roper St. Francis. “1.9 million neurons, or brain cells, are destroyed each minute that passes when you’re having a large stroke. This is why we say ‘time is brain.’ When literally every minute counts, you want to be able to make the right treatment decision as soon as possible.”

The alliance is designed to cut back on the time wasted before treatment begins.

“Now with the addition of the telestroke carts, the neurologist can log on to the system and start examining the patient within minutes of the patient arriving to the emergency room,” Sparks said. “Think about it: The difference in time could save a person’s ability to speak, move their arm. This is why this partnership is so important.”

Ten MUSC physicians are now on the system, along with two from Roper St. Francis and one from McLeod Health in the Pee Dee. The 13 doctors rotate being on call via the technology at 26 sites across the state, which means 96% of South Carolinians are within one hour of expert stroke care, according to MUSC Health CEO Dr. Patrick Cawley. He said just a few years ago, only around half of the state’s population was within an hour of care.

Patients who are seen by a doctor who is not physically at their hospital will not receive separate bills, Cawley said, because the hospitals have signed contracts to share funds.

“We have broken down barriers between two hospital systems and joined forces to provide the highest level of care to every stroke patient in the Lowcountry,” Sparks said. “But most importantly, we’re making a huge difference in the lives of our patients by offering them the best chance possible at recovery from a stroke.”

Reach Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144.

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