Ambulance workers using FaceTime during stroke emergencies leads to quicker treatment

FaceTime improves life-saving stroke care Credit: PA

Paramedics using video calls to speak to doctors while tending to stroke patients during emergencies have led to patients getting quicker life-saving treatment.

When the pandemic hit, London Ambulance Service crew used Apple iPads to connect to senior doctors and assess stroke patients at the scene of a 999 call-out.

This has led to patients "consistently" ending up in the right place first time, meaning they were able to be treated more quickly and avoided time-consuming transfers, medics at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) said.

Strokes occur when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off. Even short delays to treatment can be deadly or leave patients with life-altering disabilities.

Data suggests the practice has cut the number of patients with other conditions being sent to the hyper-acute stroke unit at UCLH by half – allowing doctors more time to deal with major stroke victims.

NHS England said it is looking at how the system can be rolled out across the country.

Michael Dukelow, 62, is one such patient who has benefited from the system twice after suffering a major stroke in November 2020 followed by a mini-stroke in June.

Michael Dukelow had a major stroke in November 2020 and received specialist assessment in his own home Credit: Sarah Collier/PA

Mr Dukelow, from Hornsey, north London, said the scheme helped him by speeding up his care after paramedics used the technology to confirm he needed to be sent to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Once at the hospital, the stroke team quickly confirmed with a scan that he was having an ischaemic stroke, when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.

He was given thrombolysis – clot buster medicine – to dissolve the clot.

Mr Dukelow, who owns a roofing company, said: “I know it’s all about timing and they had it sussed out straight away.

“I have had a full recovery and live a normal life. I suffer no effects thanks to that quick technology and the speed of everyone, everything just worked out well for me.”

Patrick Hunter, senior clinical lead paramedic at London Ambulance Service in North Central London, said: “The innovation on the technology side isn’t that new – we’ve been using FaceTime to contact our grannies during the pandemic.

“The real innovation is connecting the ambulance service with the specialists in a way that’s never been done before.

“And it creates this ultra early triage where we bring specialists in to the patient’s front room, which is reassuring for them and also ensures they get the absolute right treatment and don’t go to a hospital unnecessarily.”

Mr Hunter said paramedics treating patients with other conditions could also use Facetime to speak to a GP or social care teams.

Video calls are already being used to connect paramedics with children’s doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital so medics can assess the rare condition of strokes in children.

Dr Rob Simister, consultant neurologist and clinical lead for UCLH’s hyper-acute stroke unit at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said: “We started this project in April last year. At the time we were really very concerned about Covid, and in particular the stress on the ambulance system.

“We wanted a tool that allowed us to make the ambulance service crews more accurate in deciding who they needed to take on a long journey to a specialist stroke service, and who would be better cared for in a much shorter journey to the local emergency department."

Some 100,000 strokes occur every year in the UK, leading to 38,000 deaths, and are a leading cause of death and disability, according to Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).