Stroke prevention clinics were established in Ontario to provide comprehensive, equitable, evidence-based care for patients at high risk of stroke. However, depending on where patients present with their stroke symptoms there are differences in access to diagnostic services. Patients presenting to a primary care office or small hospital, have limited or no access to diagnostic services compared to those presenting to large academic hospitals. To overcome this inequitable access to stroke expertise and diagnostics, we developed a standard referral protocol, a centralized approach to triage and dedicated diagnostic imaging services in regional stroke prevention clinics. The objective of our research was to evaluate the degree to which these system supports have resulted in comprehensive stroke prevention best practice care.
Retrospective data analysis was completed using the FY 2011/12 Ontario Stroke Audit of Secondary Stroke Prevention Clinics database. We examined differences in secondary stroke prevention best practices across the five stroke prevention clinics and if there were differences in practice by referral source (Emergency vs. Primary Care).
A total of 1853 patients were seen at the five Champlain stroke prevention clinics in 2011/12. The majority of referrals were initiated from Emergency Departments 58.7%, followed by primary care 29.2%, specialists 9.2% and inpatient units 2.8%. Overall, high rates of neuroimaging (97.6%), and vascular imaging (97.6 %) were achieved with little variation across stroke prevention clinics. There was no variation in imaging rates by referral source. The stroke prevention clinics facilitated neuroimaging and vascular imaging for almost 30% of patients, as they did not have these tests completed at the site of initial presentation.
Implementing a centralized stroke prevention clinic referral and triage system has enabled equitable access to essential diagnostic testing in the Champlain region. Rapid diagnostic imaging plays a vital role of in identifying stroke etiology, and influences patient prioritization, treatments and management in the stroke prevention clinic setting. Future research should include evaluation of patient outcomes relative to the timing of diagnostic testing.