Stroke policy recommendations incorporate advances in endovascular therapy

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Transport algorithms must account for uncertainty

When determining where to transport a patient with stroke, uncertainty about the patient’s diagnosis and eligibility for thrombectomy is a necessary consideration, said Robert A. Harrington, MD, of Stanford University (Calif.), in an accompanying editorial.

In lieu of better data, stroke systems should follow the recommendation of the Mission: Lifeline Severity-based Stroke Triage Algorithm for emergency medical services to avoid more than 15 minutes of additional travel time to transport a patient to a center that can perform endovascular therapy when the patient may be eligible for intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), said Dr. Harrington.

Delays in initiating tPA could lead to some patients not receiving treatment. “Some patients with suspected LVO [large vessel occlusion] either will not have thrombectomy or will not be eligible for it, and they also run the risk of not receiving any acute reperfusion therapy. Consequently, transport algorithms and models must take into account the uncertainty in prehospital diagnosis when considering the most appropriate facility,” he said.

Forthcoming acute stroke guidelines “will recommend intravenous tPA for all eligible subjects” because administration of tPA before endovascular thrombectomy does not appear to be harmful, Dr. Harrington noted.

Ultimately, approaches to routing patients may vary by region. “It is up to local and regional communities ... to define how best to implement these elements into a stroke system of care that meets their needs and resources and to define the types of hospitals that should qualify as points of entry for patients with suspected LVO strokes,” Dr. Harrington said.

A group convened by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association is drafting further guiding principles for stroke systems of care in various regional settings.

Dr. Harrington is president-elect of the American Heart Association. He reported receiving research grants from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb.



Stroke centers need to collaborate within their regions to assure best practices and optimal access to comprehensive stroke centers as well as newly-designated thrombectomy-capable stroke centers, according to an updated policy statement from the American Stroke Association published in Stroke.

Opeolu Adeoye, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati

Dr. Opeolu Adeoye

Opeolu Adeoye, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati – and chair of the policy statement writing group – and coauthors updated the ASA’s 2005 recommendations for policy makers and public health care agencies to reflect current evidence, the increased availability of endovascular therapy, and new stroke center certifications.

“We have seen monumental advancements in acute stroke care over the past 14 years, and our concept of a comprehensive stroke system of care has evolved as a result,” Dr. Adeoye said in a news release.

While a recommendation to support the initiation of stroke prevention regimens remains unchanged from the 2005 recommendations, the 2019 update emphasizes a need to support long-term adherence to such regimens. To that end, researchers should examine the potential benefits of stroke prevention efforts that incorporate social media, gamification, and other technologies and principles to promote healthy behavior, the authors suggested. Furthermore, technology may allow for the passive surveillance of baseline behaviors and enable researchers to track changes in behavior over time.

Thrombectomy-capable centers

Thrombectomy-capable stroke centers, which have capabilities between those of primary stroke centers and comprehensive stroke centers, provide a relatively new level of acute stroke care. In communities that do not otherwise have access to thrombectomy, these centers play a clear role. In communities with comprehensive stroke centers, their role “is more controversial, and routing plans for patients with a suspected LVO [large vessel occlusion] should always seek the center of highest capability when travel time differences are short,” the statement says.

Timely parenchymal and arterial imaging via CT or MRI are needed to identify the subset of patients who may benefit from thrombectomy. All centers managing stroke patients should develop a plan for the definitive identification and treatment of these patients. Imaging techniques that assess penumbral patterns to identify candidates for endovascular therapy between 6 and 24 hours after patients were last known to be normal “merit broader adoption,” the statement says.

Hospitals without thrombectomy capability should have transfer protocols to allow the rapid treatment of these patients to hospitals with the appropriate level of care. In rural facilities that lack 24/7 imaging and radiology capabilities, this may mean rapid transfer of patients with clinically suspected LVO to hospitals where their work-up may be expedited.

To improve process, centers providing thrombectomy should rigorously track patient flow at all time points from presentation to imaging to intervention. Reperfusion rates, procedural complications, and patient clinical outcomes must be tracked and reported.

Travel times

Triage paradigms and protocols should be developed to ensure that emergency medical service (EMS) providers are able to rapidly identify all patients with a known or suspected stroke and to assess them with a validated and standardized instrument for stroke screening such as FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, Time), Los Angeles Prehospital Stroke Screen, or Cincinnati Prehospital Stroke Scale.

In prehospital patients who screen positive for suspected stroke, a standard prehospital stroke severity assessment tool such as the Cincinnati Stroke Triage Assessment Tool, Rapid Arterial Occlusion Evaluation, Los Angeles Motor Scale, or Field Assessment Stroke Triage for Emergency Destination should be used. “Further research is needed to establish the most effective prehospital stroke severity triage scale,” the authors noted. In all cases, EMS should notify hospitals that a stroke patient is en route.

“When there are several intravenous alteplase–capable hospitals in a well-defined geographic region, extra transportation times to reach a facility capable of endovascular thrombectomy should be limited to no more than 15 minutes in patients with a prehospital stroke severity score suggestive of LVO,” according to the recommendations. “When several hospital options exist within similar travel times, EMS should seek care at the facility capable of offering the highest level of stroke care. Further research is needed to establish travel time parameters for hospital bypass in cases of prehospital suspicion of LVO.”

Outcomes and discharge

Centers should track various treatment and patient outcomes, and all patients discharged to their homes should have appropriate follow-up with specialized stroke services and primary care and be screened for postacute complications.

Government institutions should standardize the organization of stroke care, ensure that stroke patients receive timely care at appropriate hospitals, and facilitate access to secondary prevention and rehabilitation resources after stroke, the authors wrote.

“Programs geared at further improving the knowledge of the public, encouraging primordial and primary prevention, advancing and facilitating acute therapy, improving secondary prevention and recovery from stroke, and reducing disparities in stroke care should be actively developed in a coordinated and collaborative fashion by providers and policymakers at the local, state, and national levels,” the authors concluded. “Such efforts will continue to mitigate the effects of stroke on society.”

Dr. Adeoye had no disclosures. Some coauthors reported research grants and consultant or advisory board positions.

SOURCE: Adeoye O et al. Stroke. 2019 May 20. doi: 10.1161/STR.0000000000000173.

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