Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in America; it occurs once every 40 seconds in the United States. Because a stroke can happen to any person at any time, many health care facilities are making stroke care a top priority.
When someone is having a stroke, time is of the essence. A stroke occurs when vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain are cut off. Getting emergency medical treatment at the first sign of stroke can help save a person’s life.
Recently, Mount Nittany Health was awarded certification as an advanced primary stroke center by the Joint Commission, an organization that accredits health care programs throughout the country.
Due to recent regulation, emergency medical services units are required to take patients who appear to have signs of a stroke to a medical center that is certified as either a primary stroke center or a comprehensive stroke center. Although stroke care has always been a top priority, this legislation allowed the team at Mount Nittany Medical Center to work toward refining stroke care practices and achieve the primary stroke center designation.
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Achieving a primary stroke center designation required rigorous policies, procedures and standards to be developed, including six different sets of “orders” that providers use as a roadmap when they believe a patient is having a stroke. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell what type of stroke the patient is having, so these orders include lab work, CT scans, neurological assessments and more.
Mount Nittany Medical Center also has the additional resources of Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s neurosurgeons and interventional neurologists through a remote, audiovisual computer cart, using telemedicine. The cart allows a neurologist from Hershey to talk to and see a physician and patient from Mount Nittany Medical Center through a computer in real time. Together, the providers can determine appropriate treatment options and best steps for patients.
Stroke education also is a major component to upholding the primary stroke center designation and to keeping our patients healthy. Many nurses and physicians underwent specialized stroke education courses, and ancillary staff were taught to recognize and respond to the signs of a potential stroke.
One of our biggest challenges, however, is educating the public to recognize and quickly respond to the signs of a stroke. The acronym FAST can help with this.
F — face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
A — arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Is one arm weak or numb?
S — speech difficulty: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is speech slurred, is he or she unable to speak or hard to understand?
T — time: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get him or her to the hospital immediately.
By reacting quickly to a patient who may be having a stroke, precious brain cells and lives can be saved.