“Time is brain”
When a person is having a stroke, getting treatment fast is critical because it can save brain tissue from permanent damage. About 80% of strokes are ischemic strokes, which are caused by a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain that leaves the surrounding tissue starved of blood. Restoring blood flow to the brain as soon as possible is crucial to give a person his or her best chance at a full recovery, like being able to walk and talk again.
Marc Lazzaro, MD, FAHA, an interventional neurologist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital and program director of the hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and Stroke and Neurovascular Program, said how each person tolerates a blocked blood vessel in the brain is different.
“For every 15 minutes after a stroke, we know there is a substantial decline in a person’s overall outcome,” Dr. Lazzaro said. “A person’s ability to be functionally independent and regain a good quality of life is reduced. This is why we say ‘time is brain.’”
A new target door-to-needle time
Hospitals measure how fast they provide treatment to stroke patients by what is called the door-to-needle time – the time it takes the team to deliver the medication that will dissolve the blood clot. The national standard, set by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, recommends patients receive the clot-busting medication, called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), in less than 60 minutes. The stroke team at Froedtert & MCW Froedtert Hospital set a more ambitious goal, putting protocols and processes in place to cut that time in half and targeting a 30 minute door-to-needle time.
“These very fast times are achievable,” Dr. Lazzaro said. “The real challenge is making them sustainable. We have spent a lot of time over the last several months identifying areas for improvement, and our data shows it is possible for us.”
Teamwork leads to faster, more efficient treatment
Over the last 18 months, the door-to-needle time for ischemic stroke patients at Froedtert & MCW Froedtert Hospital has steadily declined. For the last six months, the door-to-needle time has consistently been under 30 minutes. Dr. Lazzaro credits this success to the seamless coordination of care between everyone involved – from the paramedics in the field, to the hospital’s emergency medicine, neurology, radiology and pharmacy teams.
“It is a true multidisciplinary approach,” Dr. Lazzaro said. “We have studied and finessed every step of the process, from the moment an acute stroke patient is on their way to the hospital, and we have reorganized the sequence of events to allow for the most efficient treatment.”
Carrying out each step in the sequence with urgency and integrity is critical to achieving a faster door-to-needle time, made possible by a team with keen expertise and extensive experience in treating stroke patients. When a stroke patient is en route, the paramedics notify the hospital. Upon arrival, the patient is immediately taken for brain scans to visualize the clot – changing into a hospital gown can wait. Parallel-processing is also crucial. For example, while the neurology team is evaluating the patient’s CT scan, the pharmacy team doesn’t wait for the go-ahead to prepare the tPA medication; they do it simultaneously.
“We always strive for continual improvement,” Dr. Lazzaro said. “We want to make a difference and advance stroke care. It’s part of our culture as an academic medical center to provide the highest caliber care possible.”
For more information on stroke care, visit: froedtert.com/stroke.