Stroke-Certified Hospitals Strike Back Against Nation's Third-Leading Killer

Every year, about 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke; 610,000 are first attacks. However, six out of 10 Americans do not know which hospitals offer specialized treatment for stroke—despite the number of stroke-certified hospitals nearly doubling since 2006, according to an American Stroke Association survey.

In a survey of 1,000 people throughout the United States, 58 percent said they don’t know if hospitals in their community are stroke certified but 72 percent said they believe it’s “very” important or “somewhat” important that they know where stroke-certified hospitals are located in their area.

“Even though we have conducted major pushes through our Get With The Guidelines program and by working with The Joint Commission to increase the number of certified hospitals in this country, the public seems less aware of stroke-certified hospitals,” said Ralph Sacco, M.D., president-elect of the American Heart Association and chairman of neurology/Miller Professor of Neurology, Epidemiology and Human Genetics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “The survey results show the need for continuous reinforcement of public education to maintain awareness of the stroke warning signs and symptoms as well as the importance of stroke specialty hospitals. This issue must be at the top of everyone’s minds.”

Today, there are more than 640 primary stroke centers certified by The Joint Commission (a private non-profit organization that provides certification programs for health care organizations, including hospitals) operating in 49 states and the District of Columbia, said Jean Range, The Joint Commission executive director of Disease-Specific Care Certification. In some states—such as Massachusetts and Maryland—hospitals receive stroke certification through other agencies.

In addition to certification, The American Stroke Association and American Heart Association offer Get With The Guidelines-Stroke, a hospital-based quality improvement program that provides an online interactive assessment and report tool, resources, quarterly workshops, training, and feedback to staff at participating hospitals.

The survey also found that pubic awareness of stroke-certified hospitals varies depending on geographic location:

  • 41 percent of those polled in the Northeast are more likely to know if hospitals in their areas specialize in stroke care.
  • 36 percent of those polled in the Midwest are more likely to know if hospitals in their areas specialize in stroke care.
  • 30 percent of those polled in the South are more likely to know if hospitals in their areas specialize in stroke care.
  • 26 percent of those polled in the West are more likely to know if hospitals in their areas specialize in stroke care.

Fewer people in the southeastern United States and Mississippi Valley—known as the Stroke Belt—are aware of stroke-certified hospitals, but they are the ones who need this information the most. The area has a higher rate of stroke mortality than in any other U.S. region. Researchers continue to investigate why this happens.

Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of severe, long-term disability. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over 65, however, nearly one-quarter of strokes occur in people under 65.

“Everyone should know the stroke warning signs, call 9-1-1 if you or your loved one is having a stroke and know which hospitals are better equipped to handle strokes,” Sacco said. “If certification is not feasible for rural or other underserved area hospitals, then we will explore linking them with primary stroke centers through telemedicine to increase patient access to stroke specialists and eliminate disparities in access to acute stroke care.”

Visit www.strokeassociation.org for more information.

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