Introduction: Modern advances in acute stroke care place an added emphasis on accurate prehospital diagnosis and triage. As part of the Improving Treatment with Rapid Evaluation of Acute Stroke via mobile Telemedicine (iTREAT) study, we assessed the EMS provider experience with a novel system for mobile telestroke assessment.
Methods: We developed a 12-question survey with input from local participants in an EMS Council serving rural counties in central Virginia. Providers rated the iTREAT system on feasibility for acute stroke triage, potential effectiveness in prehospital neurological assessment, and interactions with prehospital care. All survey responses were voluntary and anonymous.
Results: Since initiation of live patient enrollment, we have completed 34 ambulance-based telestroke encounters with the iTREAT system. Among 7 participating agencies, 19 EMS providers have served as tele-presenters during the telestroke assessment, and 17 EMS providers completed the voluntary survey. Of the respondents, 71% were certified EMS providers for over 5 years. Regarding technical feasibility, 69% experienced issues related to maintaining a video connection, 41% with logging in to the videoconferencing application, and 18% powering on the tablet. Of technical challenges, 41% of providers resolved the issue on their own, 18% with guidance from study staff, and 24% could not resolve the issue. Concerning patient care, 23% felt the system interfered, 35% were neutral, and 41% felt there was no interference. The majority of respondents (71%) agreed that the iTREAT system is feasible for acute stroke triage, and an effective tool (59%) for prehospital neurological assessment. In commentary, EMS participants emphasized the system’s utility in rural areas.
Conclusion: This survey of the EMS experience with a low-cost, ambulance-based system for prehospital telestroke assessment reveals both technical challenges and clinical promise. Importantly, technical issues are mostly solvable in real time and correctable for further system refinement. As a novel tool for prehospital neurological assessment and acute stroke triage, the initial EMS evaluation supports further investigation of clinical efficacy, particularly in rural and underserved areas.