Outcomes of studies detail benefits of designation.
There are some key components of primary stroke centers that appear to make a big difference. Acute stroke teams reduce time delays and increase treatment by IV tissue plasminogen activator (TPA). Stroke units have repeatedly been shown to improve outcomes, reduce deaths, and reduce complications. Care protocols improve the efficiency of care, improve outcomes, and reduce mistakes.
A meta-analysis of data from 18 well-done, relevant studies showed that stroke unit care was associated with a significant 21% reduction in death and a 13% reduction in the combined end point of death or poor outcome.
A separate 2005 study by Dr. S. Claiborne Johnston and associates of 16,853 patients with acute ischemic stroke at 34 medical centers looked at whether the Brain Attack Coalition’s criteria for stroke centers improved care. Use of an acute stroke team reduced the risk of mortality by 24%. Emergency medical services (EMS) activation of a stroke team reduced mortality risk by 19%. The rate of TPA use at centers that had the most characteristics of primary stroke centers was close to 5% of strokes – double the rate at other centers (Neurology 2005;64:422-7).
Data from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and numerous studies throughout the world show that timely administration of TPA after stroke improves patient outcomes. This is a very important point: If stroke centers did nothing more than increase the use of IV TPA, their effect on patient outcomes would be profound.
A 2006 report from New York State followed 32 hospitals, 14 of which became designated primary stroke centers. They instituted preferential triage, in which ambulances had to bypass non–stroke centers, if possible, to take patients to a stroke center. The rate of TPA utilization nearly doubled. Stroke unit admissions skyrocketed from a little more than 15% to nearly 40%.
In a new study, we looked at TPA use at stroke centers that are certified by the Joint Commission and have gone through either one cycle or three cycles of certification. The rate of IV TPA administration to eligible patients significantly increased in relation to the length of time a hospital had been a stroke center.
The more experienced stroke centers also achieved higher rates of compliance with other care paradigms, including higher rates of discharge on statins and stroke education. These make a difference in preventing subsequent strokes, MIs, and vascular deaths.