Worldwide, more than six million lives are lost each year to stroke. In the United States, stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death. Sadly, Arkansas leads the nation in deaths from strokes, which claim more than 2,000 lives here every year. Those who survive a stroke are often left suffering from long-term disabilities.
Currently, one-in-six-people will suffer a stroke in their lifetime. That rate is expected to increase nearly 25 percent by 2030. As a result, the direct medical costs for treating strokes are expected to rise even higher.
Part of the reason strokes are so devastating is that, much like heart attacks, they come on suddenly and require immediate medical attention. In rural states like ours, a quick response is not always possible. This only increases the risks of long-term disability or death. However, thanks to advancements in technology and the expansion of telemedicine, we are improving the odds for stroke survival.
Recently, I participated in a demonstration of Arkansas's telemedicine program as part of World Stroke Day. From Little Rock, I was able to see and communicate with doctors at Conway Regional Medical Center through a program called Arkansas SAVES. SAVES, which stands for Stroke Assistance through Virtual Emergency Support, has links to 40 emergency rooms across the State. Hospitals use these links to get consults from one of four vascular neurologists. Led by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Center for Distance Health, the program helps secure timely treatment for stroke patients, even in remote locations.
Without the approval of a neurologist, many of Arkansas's rural hospitals are reluctant to administer the drugs that can save the life of someone suffering from stroke. With Arkansas SAVES, stroke patients stand a better chance of receiving treatments that reduce the possibility of permanent, stroke-related disability, and that can save their lives.
In addition to saving critical time when someone is experiencing a stroke, telemedicine can help prevent rural residents from ever experiencing one in the first place. Arkansans who live in rural areas and recognize the early warning signs of a potential stoke often forgo the time and travel required in seeing a specialist in person. They may feel that minor symptoms don't warrant the long drive, or they can't afford to miss work for a full-day round trip.
With telemedicine, they can stay close to home and still get help, potentially from the same health-care professionals they would travel to Little Rock to see. As these opportunities continue to expand, it could be a significant boon to the health of our people while reducing the weight of increased medical costs on our health-care system.
In the past several years, health-care outcomes have improved in areas that have implemented new technologies. In Arkansas, we are working to make advances like telemedicine a regular option within our health-care system. For people who experience a stroke, these innovations can mean the difference between life and death, between disability and a full recovery. That will be the greatest measure of our success.