Healthcare News & Insights

Texting may help hospitals treat and diagnose strokes

Text messaging has become an essential method of communication among friends and family members. But it can also be effective in saving lives in hospitals, as demonstrated by research involving stroke victims.

The benefits of text-based communication can help hospitals improve the quality and speed of care in situations where every minute counts, such as when admitting and treating a patient who has experienced an acute ischemic stroke.

Quicker response time

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California found doctors in the emergency department responded to stroke patients faster using a text-based communication system instead of a traditional paging system.

The goal of the study was to determine if the texting system would help hospitals treat acute ischemic stroke patients within the recommended 60-minute “door-to-needle” window for administering a tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), which can prevent disability caused by ischemic strokes if given in time.

Doctors who used the texting system reported an average of 65 minutes between stroke patients’ admission and the administration of t-PA. Those using the traditional paging system to communicate had door-to-needle times of 86 minutes.

Although both times are still longer than recommended by stroke guidelines (which researchers attributed to other difficulties), the results from the text-based system showed a clear improvement over the paging system.

The text-messaging system also allowed doctors and staff to view info from a patient’s electronic medical record directly on the device, which is another benefit that can help doctors deliver prompt, timely care.

Even better: Researchers determined that a text-based system shouldn’t be too costly for most hospitals to implement, since the technology is readily available.

‘Dystextia’ as a stroke symptom

In cases where a patient passes all other traditional stroke assessments, having the patient attempt to compose a text message can be vital to diagnosing a stroke that may otherwise go undetected.

A phenomenon colloquially known among researchers as “dystextia” has reliably predicting the occurrence of stroke in several patients.

Dystexia refers to the practice of sending a text message with garbled, grammatically incorrect words and phrases.  In most cases, people who send messages like this can recognize their errors when looking over the message afterward. But if they can’t, it could signal a neurological problem.

According to a news release, doctors at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit examined a 40-year-old man who initially presented with no major symptoms of a stroke besides mild facial weakness. In fact, he passed a routine bedside screening test evaluating his language comprehension ability.

However, the man’s wife indicated he had previously sent her a series of incoherent, disjointed text messages the night before.  So doctors told him to compose a simple text message on a smartphone.

He handed the phone back after typing a message rife with obvious errors. When doctors asked him if he saw anything wrong with his message, he said he couldn’t see any mistakes.

An imaging scan of the brain revealed that the man had a small lesion on the area of his brain that controlled language – and doctors determined he had indeed suffered a mild stroke.

If doctors hadn’t thought to follow up on the man’s difficulty sending text messages, they may never have discovered that he had a stroke at all.

So the ability to create a coherent text message may be a reliable indicator to determine if a patient has had a stroke. You may want to have doctors at your hospital keep this info in mind.

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