28/10/2013 10:22 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

World Stroke Day: The Past, Present and Future of Telestroke Care

World Stroke Day is coming up on October 29th. As part of the World Stroke Campaign, World Stroke Day aims to raise awareness about stroke treatment on a global scale.

Here are the facts: stroke is a preventable, treatable disease. Despite this, one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime, and someone dies every six seconds from a stroke. 15 million people have a stroke every year, and sadly, 6 million of those don't survive. Facts like this are the basis for the World Stroke Day's '1 in 6' campaign.

There are many things we can do to raise awareness of avoiding stroke - both among medical professionals and the general public. Healthy habits and lifestyles are, of course, the best and most obvious ways to avoid stroke, but treatment is trickier. From the development of contrast angiography in relation to stroke treatment in the 1920s, to the realisation that aspirin could help prevent stroke in the 1960s, there were many milestones in stroke treatment in the twentieth century. Since then, stroke treatment has been evolving with the world around it, with technology being a huge influencer on the ways we prevent, recognise and treat strokes in patients the world over. Doctors are operating in a completely different world to the 1920s, with new telemedicine capabilities being developed every day.

As many reading this will know, telemedicine allows healthcare staff to use telecommunication technologies to give medical care to patients from a distance. For instance, a specialist working in one hospital can share their expertise across a wider area than just the one hospital they happen to be working in. This is especially important in rural communities, as NHS Cumbria and Lancashire has found.

The NHS Cumbria and Lancashire telestroke network serves eight hospitals that in turn serve 2.2 million people spread over 3,500m². For this extensive population and extended rural area, 16 consultants are able to deliver 24/7 thrombolysis treatment to patients with acute ischaemic stroke. Each hospital site is equipped with a telestroke solution that includes Polycom® Practitioner Carts® that enable mobile HD video in the hospitals, and Polycom® RealPresence® Desktop video collaboration software installed on the clinician's home PC.

Doctors appreciate the new technology, as the telestroke service frees up time for them in busy A&E departments. Patients now have on-demand access to a stroke physician for bedside consultations. The service also reduces the workload of on-call radiologists, because now they're called in only if an expert opinion is required. In addition to improving care and helping to save lives, and, improving coverage and work-life balance for physicians, the telestroke service has also reduced the NHS costs associated with dependent stroke care by approximately £30,000 per patient.

Fast-forward to 2020, and initiatives like this will have sprung up all over the place, with the most successful becoming commonplace across all NHS hospitals. As well as using video technology to save time and money, the healthcare sector will also use it to assist with training in stroke care and other types of care.

Looking ahead, I think the healthcare sector will benefit from running virtual clinics via video conferencing. Potentially, they could be very successful; but certain measures need to be implemented to address concerns. An intuitive video solution should be used. Patients need to feel comfortable with the technology , both in their use of it and the security of the system. There has been some talk of doctors using mainstream, consumer video conferencing tools in the future, but the sensitivity of information being discussed over these video consultations calls for enterprise-grade security.

World Stroke Day isn't just for 24 hours every October. It's the kick-off point for another twelve months of developments in stroke care. And every time World Stroke Day rolls around, we are becoming more technologically advanced with more of a chance to fight this preventable disease.