Study: About a Quarter of Hospitals Have Telestroke Capacity

By Jack O’Brien

About a quarter of hospitals have access to telestroke programs, according to JAMA study published Tuesday.

As of 2019, just over 27% of hospitals had telestroke capacity, according to the study. Over a third of hospitals with telestroke capacity by 2017 were larger health systems, while nearly 15% were smaller organizations.

Notably, hospitals with telestroke programs were also more likely to be short-term acute care hospitals located in urban areas in the West.

Additionally, the study indicated these facilities were more likely to be in counties “with fewer neurologists per capita, have for-profit ownership, and have intensive care units.”

The study concluded that the growing use of telestroke “hopefully leads to more reperfusion and improved outcomes.”

“Smaller, rural, and critical access hospitals, the group of hospitals that might benefit most from telestroke, are relatively less likely to have adopted this technology,” the study’s authors wrote. “It is unclear what barriers these hospitals face in introducing telestroke capacity. Potential barriers include lack of capital investment, lack of high-speed internet in rural communities, and regulatory barriers (eg, Stark Laws limit the material support that can be provided to referring hospitals).”

The sample size for the study was based on short-term acute hospitals and critical access hospitals open in 2017 with “at least one stroke hospitalization in Medicare fee-for-service data.”

The researchers did acknowledge that the study’s primary limitation was that telehealth networks were identified with experts and therefore might overrepresent larger health systems “anchored by teaching hospitals or using private telestroke companies.”

The study noted that uptake in telestroke programs has grown slowly in recent years and peaked in 2014.

However, the results were released as telemedicine and virtual care options have experienced mainstream success during the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Jack O’Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.