Ali Saad, MD

Wiedmann S, Hillmann S, Abilleira S, Dennis M, Hermanek P, Niewada M, et al. Variations in Acute Hospital Stroke Care and Factors Influencing Adherence to Quality Indicators in 6 European Audits. Stroke. 2015

This is a European study looking at risk factors that impact variations in acute hospital stroke care during 2007-2008. The authors used national databases from Germany, Poland, Scotland, Catalonia, Sweden, England/Wales/Northern-Ireland to look at demographic and clinical characteristics.

Key findings were that older patients were less likely to get thrombolysis, anticoagulation, and stroke unit care, but were more likely to be screened for dysphagia. Women were also less likely to receive anticoagulation/antiplatelet treatment or stroke unit treatment. aside from these trends, the study also found that there was great variation in stroke quality indicators like the delivery of thrombolytics, dysphagia screening, admission to a stroke unit for care, anticoagulant therapy, antiplatelet therapy etc. The use of thrombolytics alone varied from 1.3% to 9.1% among different audits.

Standardizing care in Europe would be more difficult compared to the US given hospitals’ different definitions of a stroke unit and the lack of a unifying governing body. Although the EU helps provide universal health care, it currently does not dictate best clinical practice for stroke. Joint Commission International does accredit hospitals as primary stroke centers, but no European countries have participated in this accreditation. I contacted the European stroke organization with the same question and am waiting to hear back from them. i’ll update this blog post with a comment if I do.

Some similarities the authors found compared to the US data include older patients being less likely to receive anticoagulation for Afib and more likely to receive dysphagia evals.

For those interested in the “weekend effect” on the delivery of stroke care, this study did not find one. the literature shows no consistent weekend effect and varies widely by country and hospital studied. Even different studies done of the same country, but at different hospitals or periods of time, show inconsistent findings.

Limitations of this study include no mention of a body (or lack thereof) that accredits stroke cares or enforces standard of care through hospital reimbursement like in the US. It is a retrospective study of several European countries so selection bias may have occurred. Although the authors showed a variation in stroke care, they did not present numbers comparing the same parameters measured in US counterparts, the data was also too limited to provide measures like functional outcome and mortality to show whether the lack of standardized care translated to worse morbidity and mortality. Lastly, there is no mention of a key stroke quality measure, post-stroke rehab, possibly due to the lack of data.

How does this study change my practice? It makes me more cognizant of biased treatment of women and the elderly. also makes me aware of the lack of standardized care for acute stroke in Europe.