The development of stroke units has significantly changed the outcome of stroke patients – one-year mortality has decreased by 23%. The hospital stay has been reduced by six days on average and five out of 100 patients become more independent at home, while four more survive and one less needs to be transferred to a nursing home.1
The goals of a stroke unit are to improve stroke outcome and diagnostic accuracy, facilitate the introduction of new treatments, be an optimal setting for acute trials, reduce the length of hospitalisation and allow early discharge.2
A stroke unit must be part of an integrated healthcare programme with the possibility of urgent transport and arrival time of the patients to a hospital that has a 24-hour emergency department (ED) and a stroke team.
Public awareness of alarming stroke signs have to be promoted by general practitioners (GPs), by leaflets, by press conferences and by advertisements on television. Strokes need to be recognised as an emergency.3
This article will only deal with some practical recommendations for improving patient care in the stroke unit. For medical stroke management the recommendations of the European Stroke Initiative (EUSI) should be followed.4
Emergency Needs for Stroke Patients5
A multidisciplinary stroke team must be led by an experienced neurologist – the quick triage consultation of stroke patients in the ED reduces inefficiencies and delays. This increases the proportion of patients eligible for acute stroke treatment, such as thrombolysis.
Computed tomography (CT) of the brain and laboratory services must be available 24 hours a day. It must be possible to perform Doppler ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and conventional angiography within three hours. Neurosurgical facilities must be present. A majority of stroke patients can be admitted to the stroke unit after the initial screening. Only 10% have to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) for life-threatening strokes.
Organisation of a Stroke Unit6
A stroke unit is only useful when at least 200 patients are admitted on a yearly basis. It should consist of at least four beds, each equipped with non-invasive computed assisted monitoring for cardiac arrhythmia detection, arterial blood pressure assessment and oxygen saturation measurements.