For years, advocates promoted the use of telemedicine in stroke care, citing data pointing to its efficacy in fostering better outcomes and cost savings. Now, a new federal law—enacted thanks in large part to advocacy by organizations like Partners HealthCare, the American Heart Association (AHA), and the American Academy of Neurology (AHN), will help ensure that stroke patients have access to the quality care they need, no matter where they live.

The Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act, signed earlier this year, will take effect in January 2019. It removes financial barriers to the expansion of telemedicine services nationwide by allowing care sites to bill for telemedicine consultations. 

“It’s a remarkable accomplishment,” says Lee H. Schwamm, MD, Executive Vice Chair of Neurology and Director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center. “I’m thrilled to see that this bill passed with its core principles intact—it was in the right place at the right time and in the right hands when Congress came together to pass the budget resolution.”

Dr. Schwamm testified in front of the United States Senate Committee on Finance in support of the bill last year and has been consulting with the AHA and AAN for more than a decade to make telehealth in stroke care more accessible. Research has shown that the enhanced care provided for stroke patients through telemedicine can help diminish long-term disability and ultimately save more lives.

MGH provides care access for 6.5 million New England patients with neurological conditions, through connections to 35 programs at 23 hospitals and to their homes. The Mass General TeleStroke program has increased the use of thrombolytics to nine times the national average, avoiding inter-hospital transfers in 70 percent of consults—potentially saving more than $6 million each year while saving invaluable lives. 

“We were really laser-beam-focused on one condition, on one specified disease, where we had strong data on efficacy and projected financial savings,” Dr. Schwamm says. “This made the FAST bill attractive to bipartisan sponsors—and increased overall access to care.” 

Read more in MGH Hotline.

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