By Andréa Stanford
Today neurologists are faced with two key challenges: an
increasing shortage of cognitive care specialists and an aging population
riddled with neurologic conditions, such as stroke and dementia. As a result, patients with limited access to
neurologic expertise, including those living in rural or geographically
underserved areas, individuals with limited mobility, and those deployed in the
military, have felt the brunt of these obstacles.
One growing solution to these
problems is “teleneurology,” or the practice of using audio-visual conferencing
to administer neurological bedside care. According to a recent report of the
Telemedicine Work Group of the American Academy of Neurology, published in the Neurology journal, teleneurology has
proven to be highly effective in improving care and increasing access for
“Teleneurology is an exciting and growing field. It allows a
neurologist to be at the bedside virtually almost anywhere in the world in
real-time,” explains Lawrence R. Wechsler,
M.D., lead author of the report and professor and chair of the Department of
Neurology at Pitt’s School of Medicine,
and vice president, telemedicine, for
UPMC’s Physician Services Division. “This is a means of delivering
expert care to patients where they otherwise might not be able to get this
level of care.”
|Lawrence R. Wechsler, M.D. |
For ailments such as stroke that require rapid assessment or
for patients with Parkinson’s disease who suffer from impaired mobility,
telemedicine is critical. This technology isn’t just reserved for clinical
practice for civilians; the Department of Veterans Affairs has also
integrated telemedicine services into the treatment and management of traumatic
brain and spinal cord injuries for active military personnel.
Additionally, telemedicine sharpens the network of
collaboration among neurologists, primary care physicians and other healthcare
professionals. Hub-and-spoke models,
which align primary stroke centers (hubs) with smaller, regional rural or
underserved facilities (spokes), enable an exchange of information and
education, Dr. Weschler explains.
“It’s a way for practitioners to expand their horizons,
improve the care they deliver to their patients and improve their practice in
many ways that are limited only by our imagination.”
While highlighting the advantages of this technology, the
article also outlines some of the hurdles, including:
- Concerns that this communication will disrupt
existing doctor-patient relationships.
- Physician reluctance to implement new technology
in routine practice.
- Difficulties in performing a complete neurologic
exam via telehealth.
To hear more of Dr. Wechsler’s thoughts on this growing area of medicine, visit
Neurology.org to listen
to his podcast interview.