National Healthline Responses to a Stroke Scenario: Implications for Early Intervention

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Background and Purpose—Acute stroke is a time-dependent emergency in which patients often arrive outside of the therapeutic treatment windows. To determine the role that healthlines may have in promoting early presentation, this study evaluated patterns of healthline triage of potential stroke patients.Methods—Phone numbers of healthlines at 82 United States hospitals with neurology residencies were acquired. Each healthline was called and the operator was presented with a standardized scripted stroke patient scenario. The operator was asked to choose 1 of 4 responses that could be given to the patient (wait for symptom resolution, contact a primary care physician, drive to a local urgent care center, call 911 for ambulance transport). The operator was then asked to name common signs and symptoms of stroke. If the operator transferred the call, the process was repeated.Results—Forty-six healthlines participated, with 22% recommending that the patient contact a primary care physician. The remaining 78% recommended calling 911. Calls were transferred at least once in 18 cases, and 24% of the operators could not name 1 sign or symptom of stroke.Conclusions—Nearly one-quarter of potential stroke patients were routed away from emergent treatment for the described scenario. By diverting patients away from emergency therapy, patients are in jeopardy of “falling” out of the windows for therapy. Improved stroke education for healthline personnel may result in stroke patients arriving at an emergency department more urgently.

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