Arkansas leads the nation in deaths from stroke, and strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the country. Recently, medical professionals across the state have implemented new techniques to improve response time for stroke patient care.

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Government Relations Director Barbara Kumpe shared these statistics at the World Stroke Day telemedicine demonstration at Conway Regional Medical Center Oct. 29.

The state has a system called AR SAVES — or Stroke Assistance through Virtual Emergency Support — that helps rural hospitals connect with specialists in other areas through telemedicine. In situations like a stroke where the window of opportunity to help a patient with specific treatment is narrow, telemedicine helps give specialists the ability to give a diagnosis virtually even when they are at another facility.

Gov. Mike Beebe — who joined the discussion via the equipment used for telemedicine — said programs like AR SAVES are particularly important in a rural state where specialists are not prevalent in all areas.

"In today’s world with today’s technology we can address that shortage of health care professionals — particularly specialists — in rural areas by this technology," he said, "It’s even more important in a diagnosis such as stroke, where time is of such an essence."

The Arkansas Department of Health has also started a stroke registry which holds real-time data on stroke treatment from hospitals. The goals of the registry include optimizing the quality of care for Arkansans who have experienced a stroke and decreasing death and disability from an acute stroke.

"In Arkansas we have 17 strokes everyday, and five of those 17 die," said Joe Bates with the Arkansas Department of Health. "Of those remaining, a third of them are permanently disabled."

Bates said high blood pressure, tobacco use and diabetes are all leading risk factors for strokes. Half of the adults in Arkansas have high blood pressure and one in five adult Arkansans smoke tobacco.

"We need to measure these things because what’s measured gets done," he said. "The stroke registry is an attempt for the first time in Arkansas to track how strokes are treated, the risk factors. With this we will begin to see what are the rational interventions we can do to reduce this huge health burden on our population."

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