July 16, 2019

Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year and is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. The chance of surviving or recovering with little or no disability improves the sooner emergency treatment begins. However, getting treatment started quickly can be a challenge with very few neurologists practicing in the most rural areas of West Virginia.

Diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of blindness in the U.S., occurs when blood vessels in the retina change due to uncontrolled blood sugars. Maintaining strict control of blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as having regular diabetic retinopathy screenings, are keys to preventing diabetic retinopathy and vision loss. However, access to regular vision screenings can be a challenge with few ophthalmologists located in outlying counties.

Thanks to technological advances, telemedicine has become a valuable tool in helping CAMC doctors diagnose and treat both stroke and diabetic retinopathy in rural hospitals.

On July 1, CAMC hosted Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr to observe a simulated telestroke exam and remote diabetic retinopathy consultation.

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Sitting in his Charleston office with an iPad, CAMC neurologist Samip Borad, MD, connected with staff at Boone Memorial Hospital for a telestroke demo examination.

In the past, doctors would drive to CAMC hospitals to evaluate stroke patients or they were transported to CAMC via ambulance. Both took valuable time.

"The benefit of this technology is we can provide critical care in a timely manner," Borad said. "We can look at labs and medical imaging, allowing us to focus more on patient care. The faster we can provide care, the more we can minimize or prevent disability from the stroke."

Currently, telestroke is only used in emergencies; however, CAMC's goal is to expand this technology to provide neurological care in communities where there is no specialist.

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Ophthalmologist Huseyin Kadikoy, MD, also demonstrated how telehealth can benefit patients with diabetic retinopathy by connecting with Clay Primary Care in Clay County.

Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes. People who have it don't notice changes in their vision in the disease's early stages. But as it progresses, the condition can cause permanent loss of vision.

"There are people living in underserved areas in West Virginia who are at risk for blindness because they don't have access to someone who could diagnose diseases of the eye," Kadikoy said. "In many cases, if you catch these diseases early enough, blindness can be prevented."

For more information about eye conditions visit camc.org/Eyes. To learn more about the CAMC Stroke Center, the only designated primary stroke center in the region, visit camc.org/Stroke.

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