In the September 2017 issue of JAMA Neurology, Louis R. Caplan, MD, wrote an excellent editorial, “Patient care is all about stories.” He notes that we all hear from patients about a recurrence of their previous stroke deficits, typically caused by infections, medications, or metabolic changes.
His point is that, telling the difference between true vascular events and recrudescence of old deficits can be difficult, but generally can be gleaned by taking a thorough history. He also notes, quite correctly, that the generic, automated features of modern charting systems often make it harder to get the details you need from previous visits.
Obviously, being able to accurately tell the difference between them can save health care costs, too. In a study in the same issue, Mehmet Topcuoglo, MD, and his colleagues discuss methodologies to differentiate between the causes of recrudescence of stroke-related deficits. Currently, the main approach is to admit patients to the hospital, do a knee-jerk repeat work-up with MRI, magnetic resonance angiogram, and echocardiogram (typically ordered before the neurologist has even been told of the consult) and then conclude that nothing has changed neurologically and that it was all caused by a bladder infection.
Surely, if we had an accurate way of telling the difference between them with a careful history, we’d save a lot of time and money on unnecessary hospital admissions. Right?