Mercy Brings Strokes Services to Washington

February 17, 2012

Becky Abbott, a nurse in the Emergency

Department, illustrates how the telestroke cart


A service has come to Mercy Hospital Washington that is saving lives and improving outcomes for stroke patients.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability. Every 53 seconds someone suffers from a stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or when a blood vessel breaks and disrupts blood flow. When those things happen, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. The goal is for people to receive medical care as quickly as possible to ensure better outcomes.

“Mercy participates in the Mercy Telestroke program, which is extremely valuable to patients with stroke symptoms caused by blood clots. That form of stroke can be treated with a clot-busting drug under the right circumstances and a neurologist is the best physician to make that determination,” said Dr. Bret Riegel, Emergency Department director. “The telestroke program uses computers, cameras, microphones and other technologies to virtually place neurologists from other locations in the same room, in real time, with patients at Mercy Hospital Washington who are exhibiting stroke symptoms.”

Neurologists then collaborate with physicians and nurses who are at the patients’ bedside to offer the best possible care. A patient is a candidate for t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator, a clot-busting drug) or intra-arterial therapy within a few hours after the onset of symptoms. Both of these therapies can lessen or even reverse the damage caused during a stroke.

For many hospitals, it’s difficult to assess and treat stroke patients quickly because the pool of physicians who treat strokes is shrinking. The neurologists at NeuroCall, the neurology group that provides telestroke services at select Mercy facilities, are on call 24/7 and licensed in each state. They are credentialed where they practice, giving them complete access to Mercy’s fully integrated electronic health record and therefore patient information including tests and imaging that help them make a diagnosis and treatment plan.

“Having telestroke here means getting the right treatment as fast as possible to stroke patients in our area, and that can make a vast difference in someone’s recovery,” said Dr. Riegel. “Three weeks into offering the service, we have called the neurologists for 16 patients and we expect that number to increase as people learn they can come to us for stroke services.”

Stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

“If you are having any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately,” said Dr. Riegel. “And try to note the time you experienced your first symptom because that’s information we will use to make effective treatment decisions.”

Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,500 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit

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