A patient in a small town experiencing a stroke can now be seen by a neurologist hundreds of miles away in a matter of minutes.
“We can give the same level of care as we do in any primary hospital,” Dr. Murali Kolikonda, a vascular neurologist at Baptist Health Lexington in Kentucky, said.
He uses teleneurology to see patients regularly. He makes sure patients in rural areas receive the same quality of care, even without the same resources.
“There has been a huge divide between urban and rural care in terms of access to a neurologist,” Dr. Kolikonda said.
“For years here, we had very limited access with neurology,” Christopher Troxell, DO at Baptist Health Corbin, said. He is a hospitalist physician and chief of staff for the hospital.
Corbin is a small town almost 200 miles south of Baptist Health Lexington, where Dr. Kolikonda is located.
“It’s essential,” Troxell said. “Many times folks have not seen a neurologist in years when they really need to.”
A 2020 study published in AHA Journals found that rural patients with stroke had higher in-hospital mortality than their urban counterparts.
The use of teleneurology is growing. Not only to help in situations like caring for a stroke patient but for ongoing care or help with other neurological conditions, from a distance.
“We’re finding that 40 to 50 percent of patients can be cared for locally without even having to be transferred to a major tertiary center,” Brock Slabach, the chief operations officer at the National Rural Health Association, said.
But teleneurology isn’t a solution to everything.
“It still doesn't replace a bedside exam,” Troxell said.
And certain tests and procedures may require an in-person visit, like a CT scan. Regardless, it helps, for a specialty already stretched thin.
“We have a shortage of neurologists, worldwide,” Dr. Kolikonda said.
“We've been recruiting on and off for a neurologist for years. But it is very difficult to recruit to a small rural area,” Troxell said.
Neurology is just one example of how advancing tech can better health care everywhere.
“It has improved outcomes,” Dr. Kolikonda said.
“Even here in a rural area where folks are often resistant to change or resistant to technology at times, it has opened up another world for them,” Troxell said. “We may see more specialty telehealth services in the future.”