Helios begins national ‘Neuronet’ roll-out

  • 6 November 2007

German private hospital chain Helios has begun roll-out of a nationwide tele-neurology consultation network ‘Neuronet’ to all of its 58 hospitals.

Neuronet will use an advanced video-conferencing system to connect five specialised stroke units with smaller regional hospitals. The high quality video consultation system enables the specialists to give instructions for physical examinations as well as checking symptoms on a distance.

The project is modelled on the successful TEMPiS-network which has been helping to improve stroke care in Southern Bavaria for the last three years.

The doctor heading the Helios-project, Dr Guntram Ickenstein, is a former TEMPiS neurologist from the University of Regensburg. He is now head of neurology at the Helios-hospital in Aue.

“Using the system, stroke specialists can directly take part in the emergency treatment of a stroke patient in any of the hospitals involved”, said Helios CEO Dr Francesco De Meo.

Dr De Meo stressed the system is easy to use and available 24/7. There is a single phone number that doctors from regional hospitals can call at any time.

Using the number they reach the consulting neurologist in one out of four specialised stroke units in Aue, Berlin, Erfurt or Wuppertal. A fifth one, the hospital of Schwerin, will go live in 2008. In total, eight of the regional hospitals are so far connected to the Neuronet network, with more expected to follow in the coming months.

“We have invested €500,000 Euros in developing and implementing the project”, Dr De Meo told E-Health Europe. “In addition, every hospital that wants to be connected to the network has to invest between €10,000 and €25,000 for the infrastructural requirements.”

In addition to hospitals in the Helios chain Neuronet is also open to other hospitals hospitals: “We encourage every hospital to take part and to capitalize on our specialists”, said De Meo.

The cost of individual assessments is quite low. Having made the initial investment, a teleneurology consultation for a regional hospital is priced at €64, the national standard fee for a neurology consultation in the German healthcare system.

“We do not earn money with that, but we obviously hope that additional patients are referred to our stroke units on that way,” Dr De Meo. “But this is absolutely no precondition. They can send us the patients after the teleneurology consultation, but they do not have to.”

Teleneurology for acute stroke patients is one of the big success stories of telemedicine. Because smaller hospitals tend not to have neurologists on duty, many stroke patients, especially in rural areas, are cared for by specialists in internal medicine. Tele-stroke networks bring neurological expertise to the smaller hospitals, leading to a higher rate of thrombolysis therapy which can save lives and prevent disability.

A number of studies, published in major journals of neurology, have also shown that it works. Helios itself is planning a one year-research project to accompany the adoption of the Neuronet. “In the recent pilot phase, 86 tele-consultations have been performed, and nine out of them led to tele-thrombolytic therapy in the end”, said De Meo.

He added that Helios was talking about extending the scope of the project to other specialities: “Tele-pathology and tele-ophthalmology are particularly interesting for us, as specialists are rare in these subjects. We are also interested in solutions for tele-cardiology and tele-ENT, but this is still in discussion.”




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