State Policies Might Keep Stroke Patients From the Care They Need

By: - March 22, 2019 12:00 am

Only half of all stroke victims get to a hospital by ambulance. And among those who do, only a fraction who need treatment in a comprehensive stroke unit end up there. Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove information about Hollywood actor Luke Perry being taken by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a Feb. 27 stroke. Contrary to local news reports, a representative of the hospital stated that the actor was not taken there.

More than 140,000 Americans die from stroke every year. But getting to the best hospital as quickly as possible after a stroke improves your chances of survival. And where an ambulance takes you could depend on state law.

Unlike state rules for accident victims, which uniformly require first responders to take severely injured patients to the most advanced trauma unit available, state policies for stroke patients vary widely.

Most state rules direct paramedics to the closest hospital with a stroke unit, regardless of the attack’s severity. And some states limit paramedics to taking stroke patients to hospitals within state borders.

But most of those rules came before the recent advent of thrombectomy surgery to remove blood clots from the brain. New research shows the procedure gives patients who suffer a severe stroke a much better chance of survival without impairments.

As a result, about half of states are working to change their EMS rules and policies to ensure the most-critical patients get the surgery as quickly as possible. Neurological professional groups recommend that if a comprehensive stroke unit is within a two-hour flight or drive, then severe stroke patients should be transported there, even if a lower-level stroke unit is closer.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.