Helicopter EMS improves stroke survival odds

 - March 30, 2010, 11:25 AM

Prompt access to air ambulances can significantly improve the survival odds of stroke patients, according to a recently released University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study. The research found that 45 percent of Americans–135 million people–are more than an hour away from primary stroke centers, the facilities best equipped to care for them if they are stricken by the condition. Less than a quarter of U.S. residents can reach a stroke center in less than 30 minutes.

The study found that using existing air ambulances to fly stroke patients to appropriate care would halve the number of Americans without 60-minute access to a primary stroke center. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

The study found that only 22 percent of Americans have access to a stroke center within half an hour, while 55 percent can reach appropriate care within an hour if ambulances are not allowed to cross state lines. However, transport by helicopter EMS would enable 26 percent of Americans to reach a primary stroke center within 30 minutes and 79 percent in 60 minutes or less. In the Western U.S., helicopter EMS would increase the percentage of those who could arrive at a stroke center within one hour to 81 percent from the current 51 percent.

“Our findings show that many people do not have timely access to the type of care that they would need to save their lives or minimize damage from a stroke,” says senior study author Dr. Brendan Carr, University of Pennsylvania assistant professor of emergency medicine and biostatistics and epidemiology. “The challenge here is to think about how we can design a system that gives everyone the best chance of survival.”

The authors used U.S. Census Bureau data, an inventory of hospitals certified as primary stroke centers, driving times and ambulance dispatch and response times between population groups and the nearest stroke center, and data showing the location of all helipads used by air medical service providers and helicopter EMS dispatch and response times.