PERRYSBURG — Mercy Health doctors demonstrated a new mobile stroke unit for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, on Thursday.
The demonstration was given as an example of the intersection of internet connectivity and telehealth services technologies.
“Connected care services increase access to care for people in rural and low-income areas and we know telehealth can lead to better health outcomes and significant cost savings for both patients and health care providers,” Latta said.
The new mobile stroke unit is one of only 20, worldwide, with a new portable head CT scanner. Mercy Health has it in a specially-outfitted ambulance with a team trained to work remotely with doctors.
Dr. Eugene Lin, a neuroendovascular surgeon, demonstrated how he can remotely diagnose a patient and have 40-60 CT scan images sent to a radiologist for review. The team can then determine the next course of action, which could include medication and the next facility for ideal patient care, possibly with a comprehensive stroke unit.
Because stroke care is so time sensitive, the Mercy system has chosen to base their mobile unit at the St. Charles location in Oregon. It has the most central location in Northwest Ohio, within a 15-minute drive for rural patients.
Lin described situations where the mobile unit had paramedics contact him with video phone technology and he diagnosed the situation, sitting in his car, at a restaurant parking lot. then the mobile stroke unit met the paramedics at a halfway point to administer emergency care.
“Time is brain with a stroke patient,” Lin said. “We need to get the patient medication to dissolve a clot. We have to make sure we have that information as soon as possible. So having 4G available, having mobile hot spots with enough bandwidth for video streaming and to transmit the images to the cloud so we can view in real time… that’s how I’m able to do everything from one location.”
When Lin started in 2008 a treatment speed of 60 minutes was a goal. Now the unit has treated patients in as little as 11 minutes.
“We use Verizon, because they have the bandwidth that can get into the rural areas. You have to have the upload speed,” Lin said.
Lin explained that there is already a physician shortage, especially in rural areas, and the aging population is only making the situation worse, but these resources require investment.
Latta is the lead Republican on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which has jurisdiction over broadband and other communications connectivity issues.
In July 2019, the FCC proposed to establish a three-year, $100 million Connected Care Pilot program that would support bringing telehealth services directly to low-income patients and veterans. The program would provide an 85% discount on connectivity from broadband-enabled telehealth services that connect patients directly to their doctors. The FCC is still collecting public comment on this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
“Increasing access to reliable and affordable broadband will allow us to better capture all of its benefits and ensure more people have access to the care and services they need,” Latta said.
Along with the commission’s actions, Latta introduced a bill – the Broadband DATA Act – that has passed the House, to fix the national broadband maps. The Broadband DATA Act would improve broadband map accuracy so that federal resources can be distributed to communities that currently do not currently have the digital capabilities, specifically in rural areas, needed to keep pace with the rest of the country. It would get internet connectivity to areas for things like telehealth, homework or streaming a favorite television show.
“Connected health has the power to transform the lives of patients across the country,” Pai said. “It was a pleasure to join Congressman Bob Latta in Ohio to hear how connectivity enables physicians to assess and treat stroke patients much more quickly than before. I’m committed to continuing my work at the FCC to harness the power of technology to improve the health of all Americans.”