An expert in telemedicine for stroke patients, the director of Mass General's Comprehensive Stroke Center testified before the U.S. Senate last year on behalf of the legislation.

Hard work pays off, and health institutions and stroke patients all over the country will soon find out how. The Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act was recently signed into law.

“It’s hard work and I’m thrilled to see that this bill passed with its core principles intact and without being altered by the legislative process.”

The FAST Act encourages hospitals to use telemedicine in stroke care by allowing sites across the country to bill for telemedicine consultations. With a financial barrier broken down, the act will increase access to care for stroke patients, thereby diminishing long-term disability and ultimately saving more lives.

The bill takes effect in January 2019 and one key to its success was part of an advocacy campaign spearheaded by the American Heart Association (AHA), which was joined by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

Mass General Expert Testifies

“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. “It’s hard work and I’m thrilled to see that this bill passed with its core principles intact and without being altered by the legislative process. 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.

Read more about telemedicine initiatives at Mass General

The concepts behind the FAST Act were first drafted in 2003 as part of the Stroke Treatment and Ongoing Prevention (STOP) Act, which ultimately failed to achieve passage because of its broad scope. This time around, the AHA and AAN sharpened the act’s focus.

Strong Supporting Data

“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 bill attractive to bipartisan sponsors and increased overall access to care.”

Sue Nelson, vice president of Federal Advocacy for the AHA, says passing this bill was a logical, common sense thing to do.

“All we’re doing is providing for appropriate medical care,” Ms. Nelson says. “Most people, when it was explained to them on The Hill, said ‘Why aren’t we already doing that?’ I’m happy we finally crossed the finish line.”

To learn more about how you can support stroke care and research at Mass General, please contact us.

This story first appeared in MGH Hotline.