Washington Regional Medical Center Joins UAMS-Led Program to Provide Emergency Stroke Care

By David Robinson

Called Arkansas SAVES (Stroke Assistance Through Virtual Emergency Support), the program uses a high-tech video communications system to help provide immediate, life-saving treatments to stroke patients 24 hours a day. The real-time video communication enables a stroke neurologist to authorize emergency room physicians to use a powerful blood thinner within the critical three-hour period following the first signs of stroke.

“Washington Regional is proud to be able to offer this valuable service to our community,” said Washington Regional Medical Center President & CEO Bill Bradley. “We are privileged to partner with UAMS and continue to fulfill our mission to improving the health of people in communities we serve through compassionate, high-quality care, prevention and wellness education.”
The SAVES program is a partnership between the UAMS Center for Distance Health, the state Department of Human Services, Sparks Regional Health System in Fort Smith, Washington Regional Medical Center and 11 other Arkansas hospitals.

“This is an important part of UAMS’ mission – reaching out to other areas of the state and helping local physicians identify patients with stroke and improve the patients’ outcomes,” said Salah Keyrouz, M.D., the Arkansas SAVES medical director and assistant professor of neurology at UAMS.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arkansas had 1,847 stroke-related deaths in 2005. Arkansas ranks third highest among all states in stroke deaths, with 61 per 100,000 residents. The nationwide direct and indirect cost of medical and institutional care of permanently disabled stroke victims was $57.9 billion in 2006.

“The Arkansas SAVES program will save lives and money because if stroke patients get the treatment they need within three hours, they have a much greater chance of living without a major, costly disability,” said Julie Hall-Barrow, Ed.D., education director for the UAMS Center for Distance Health.

Stroke patients are at high risk of death or permanent disability, but patients who have an ischemic stroke can be helped with the blood-clot dissolving agent called t-PA. The drug must be given within three hours of the stroke and only to patients who have ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot, rather than a hemorrhagic stroke caused when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into surrounding brain tissue.

The Arkansas SAVES system relies on the state Health Department’s hospital preparedness high-speed video network transmission lines that provide the live, video communication necessary to link an on-call neurologist with a local hospital physician who is caring for a stroke patient.

Eleven other Arkansas hospitals are participating in the SAVES program: Baptist Health Medical Center – Arkadelphia, White River Medical Center in Batesville, Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Booneville Community Hospital, DeWitt Hospital, Johnson Regional Medical Center in Clarksville, McGehee-Desha County Hospital, Mena Regional Health System, Helena Regional Medical Center, Saint Vincent Medical Center/North in North Little Rock and White County Medical Center in Searcy.

Since the program began Nov. 1, 2008, 99 stroke patients have been treated by SAVES neurologists and 15 have received the t-PA drug.

The SAVES program will continue adding hospitals across Arkansas in the coming months, said Curtis Lowery, M.D., director of the UAMS Center for Distance Health.
He said it’s important that the public be aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke, such as sudden weakness, numbness, unsteady gait, and visual and speech problems.

In addition to Keyrouz, the team includes: Margaret Tremwel, M.D., a stroke neurologist at Sparks Regional Health System in Fort Smith, and Vladimir Karpitskiy, M.D., Ph.D., a stroke neurologist in Hot Springs and adjunct faculty in the UAMS College of Medicine.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a new 540,000-square-foot hospital, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,775 students and 748 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or uamshealth.com.