New stroke intervention guidelines stress volume



A consensus working group from numerous international societies has published new guidelines for standards of practice in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke (AIS). The new guidelines differ somewhat from the Joint Commission guideline, released in 2015, primarily by raising the bar for the number of mechanical thrombectomy (MT) procedures that level 1 and level 2 stroke centers should perform annually in order to maintain a minimum safety threshold.

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Previous studies have shown lower mortality in high-volume centers, but setting minimum standards can be a challenge, especially in under-served countries and localities. The authors, led by first author Laurent Pierot, MD, PhD, of University Hospital Reims (France), acknowledge that newly established level 2 centers may struggle to meet the minimum requirement for MT procedures, but that this is acceptable as long as the volume is expected to meet the minimum within 12-24 months.

The guidelines were created by a working group of delegates from 13 international societies, including the American Society of Neuroradiology, European Stroke Organization, World Stroke Organization, and the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery.

The publication in 2015 of studies showing the efficacy of MT in anterior circulation emergent large-vessel occlusion (ELVO) stroke patients reverberated through the stroke care community, but posed a challenge in delivering this therapy to populations in diverse localities that have no access to level 1 stroke centers.

The guidelines, published online in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, aim to ensure that facilities can handle not only the MT procedure, but also the medical management before, during, and after the procedure.

According to the new guidelines, level 2 centers should handle cases when a level 1 center cannot be reached within 2 hours. Level 2 centers should care for at least 100 AIS patients per year and should also have a relationship with a level 1 center to maintain staff training, teleconsultations, referrals, and other collaborations.

Previous studies have identified 35 or 36 MT procedures annually as a threshold to be considered “high volume,” a category that led to lower mortality. The new recommendations fall below that threshold because they are intended to apply broadly, to regions that may be under-served. In highly developed countries, stroke centers should follow regional or national guidelines that have higher limits.

Level 2 centers should perform at least 50 intracranial thrombectomy procedures for ELVO, and a total of 120 diagnostic or interventional neuroendovascular procedures per year. Individual interventionists should conduct at least 15 intracranial thrombectomy and 50 interventional neuroendovascular procedures per year.

Other recommendations cover additional details about personnel, as well as community and emergency medical services outreach.

In many ways, the recommendations are in line with the Joint Commission (TJC), according to David Tirschwell, MD, who is the medical director for the UW Medicine* Comprehensive Stroke Center at Harborview Medical Center, Seattle. He was not involved in the development of the new guidelines.

Dr. Tirschwell noted one key difference with respect to the number of MT procedures required to qualify. TJC offered no minimum annual procedures for Comprehensive Stroke Centers (equivalent to level 1), and only 15 for Thrombectomy Capable Stroke Centers (level 2), versus 50 in the new guidelines. The minimum procedure numbers are also higher for individual clinicians.

The guidelines also recommend that level 2 centers have at least three interventionalists on staff available at all times, while TJC does not address this element of staffing.

“The higher minimum number of procedures in the new international recommendations is a substantial difference and would make it harder for many hospitals to qualify, compared to the TJC requirements. As such, a lower number of hospitals may qualify, and such a barrier could prevent access to mechanical thrombectomy for many patients. On the other hand, the higher minimum number may ensure a higher quality of care, which can be seen as a strong positive feature,” Dr. Tirschwell said.

A spokesman for the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association indicated that they will review the new guidelines and consider whether to make changes to their 2015 guidelines.

SOURCE: Pierot Laurent et al. J Neurointervent Surg. 2018 Aug 28. doi: 10.1136/neurintsurg-2018-014287.

*Updated Sept. 14, 2018.

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