Minutes make the difference when it comes to strokes. This device can render a diagnosis in seconds.
Raymond D. Turner, MD, (left) led the study. Photo has been resized and cropped. Courtesy of the Medical University of South Carolina.
When someone has a major stroke, the difference between life and death can be minutes, even seconds. But the problem is, for first responders, the severity or mere presence of a stroke is difficult to diagnose, which forces providers to play a guessing game as to what kind of care a patient needs. But a team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina might have found an easier way to diagnose the deadly condition: a large, visor-like device that they can toss on a patient.
According to the researchers’ first study, the device is 92% accurate at diagnosing emergent large-vessel occlusion, a major stroke requiring special treatment. Previous diagnostic methods can vary from 40 to 89% accuracy, and in the case of a massive stroke, precision is paramount. Raymond Turner, MD, a neurosurgeon at MUSC, told Healthcare Analytics News™ that stokes often look like other conditions, and getting the right treatment is dependent on the diagnosis.
“The thing that I like about this technology and this device is that it’s really easy to use,” Turner said. Instead of going through a checklist of stroke diagnosis and trying to analyze symptoms in the field, first responders can pop the visor on a patient’s head and secure a reading after 10 to 15 seconds. “This is really taking the guessing game out of it,” Turner said.
Part of the issue is that a major stroke requires treatment that some hospitals can’t provide, like endovascular surgery to directly remove the clot. “It can really make a big difference in where the ambulance takes these patients,” Turner said. “The driver may be 10 minutes away from a hospital that can handle a small stroke, but 15 minutes away from a hospital that can handle a big stroke.”
And once a patient is in the hospital, Turner said research shows that transferring patients is rarely an effective option—the condition is just too sensitive—which means getting a patient to the right facility is vital.
The device uses a process called volumetric impedance phase shift spectroscopy to measure the severity of the stroke. VIPS, as it’s called, sends mild radio waves through the brain, which are then reflected back into the device. The radio waves change frequently slightly when they’re passing through fluids, and if a patient is having a severe stroke, the reading will come back asymmetrical. The more lopsided it is, the more dangerous the stroke is, leading to an easy-to-read data point that tells emergency responders how bad their patient has it.
For major strokes—a large clot that won’t budge with anti-clotting medications—patients need endovascular therapy within 24 hours, but the sooner they can get it the better. The researchers noted in a news release that the likelihood of a good outcome to the procedure decreases by 20% every hour that the clot remains. Essentially, Turner said, “you have to treat a stroke.” Unlike other conditions, where a patient might recover on their own through natural healing, if a stroke goes untreated or improperly treated, “you are going to be disabled or you are going to be dead,” Turner said.
Turner says that phase 2 studies are already in progress for the device. “This is going to completely change how we triage stroke patients in the field,” Turner said. “This is a huge win for stroke [medicine]. It’s super exciting.”
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