Telehealth shoots for the skies

  • Melbourne University Prof Shitij Kapur, Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan, Professor Stephen Davis, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Professor Geoffrey Donnan at launch of MRFF Frontier fund project. Photo credit: Peter Casamento
    Melbourne University Prof Shitij Kapur, Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan, Professor Stephen Davis, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Professor Geoffrey Donnan at launch of MRFF Frontier fund project. Photo credit: Peter Casamento
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Stroke Foundation
Stephanie Deller, Media & PR Officer
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In an exciting project underway, Australia could become home to the world’s first stroke air ambulance. This initiative could revolutionise access to emergency stroke treatment for people in rural and remote Australia, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, saving lives and reducing disability among communities.
 
Stroke Foundation is part of the Australian Stroke Alliance (ASA), a group working to develop, test and ultimately implement portable brain imaging tools in air and road ambulances to allow lifesaving equipment to be available at a moment’s notice.

Made up of 37 research, industry and government entities, the ASA is united in its goal to remove geographical barriers to rapid, life-saving stroke treatment. The research project was kicked off with $1 million in Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund funding.

This research program, led by Professors Geoffrey Donnan and Stephen Davis at The University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), will aim to ensure people can access stroke treatment as early as possible, ideally within the crucial first hour after experiencing stroke. Known as the ‘golden hour’, treatment within the first 60 minutes after stroke onset gives patients the best chance of surviving and avoiding lifelong disability.
 
The ASA will spend a year developing lightweight mobile brain imaging equipment and a telehealth stroke network. Telehealth (or telestroke) uses digital technology to connect rural, remote and Indigenous Australians to stroke specialists, who are largely located in our cities.  
 
Professor Davis, Director of the Melbourne Brain Centre at RMH said while stroke was highly treatable, time was the most critical element of stroke treatment.  
 
“This service will be key to allowing patients faster access to stroke treatments such as clot-busting therapy and will dramatically improve health outcomes for all Australians,” Professor Davis said.  
 
University of Melbourne Professor of Neurology Geoffrey Donnan said the program will help improve the disparities in clinical outcomes between Australia’s rural and urban populations  
 
“Your postcode should not determine your access to world-class stroke treatment,” Professor Donnan said. 
 
“We’re proposing a research program with the aim to reduce mortality and narrow the urban, rural and Indigenous health care gaps.”  
 
There are more than 56,000 strokes in Australia each year and around half a million people are living with the effects of stroke.  
 
Currently, people in rural and regional areas are 19 per cent more likely to have a stroke, particularly in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. They are also more likely to die or be left with disability due to their distance to life-saving, time-critical medical treatments.

Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan said these alarming statistics should no longer be the case.

“Stroke Foundation is proud to be part of this vital project to ensure rural and regional Australians have efficient access to the best stroke treatment and care pathways,” Ms McGowan said.

“In order for the full benefits of telehealth to be realised, it is also crucial for Australians to learn the F.A.S.T. (Face. Arms. Speech. Time.) signs of stroke and to call triple zero (000) at the first sign of stroke.”

The F.A.S.T. test is a simple way everyone can learn and remember the signs of stroke:

  • Face: Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms: Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech: Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time is critical. If you see any of these signs call triple zero (000) straight away.
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