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If you're having a stroke, it's better to get to the emergency room (ER) by ambulance than by any other mode of transportation.

That's the main message of a study presented at this year's International Stroke Conference of the American Stroke Association (Dallas) in Kissimmee, Florida. It found that stroke victims arriving at the ER by ambulance receive care faster than those arriving by any other means.

Nationally, only about half of stroke patients arrive at the nation's ERs by ambulance, said Yousef Mohammad, MD. He and researchers from Ohio State University (Columbus) and the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Research Center (Newark, New Jersey) explored whether mode of arrival to the ER makes a difference in the care patients receive after stroke symptom onset.

Analyzing a large database detailing ER services to more than 630,000 stroke victims, the researches categorized them into three groups: arriving by ambulance, air or ground; walk-ins, car, taxi, bus or by foot; and public services, such as police, social service vehicle or unknown type of transportation.

According to the study, patients who arrived by ambulance were seen and evaluated by an ER physician within 30 minutes, compared to 34 minutes if patients walked in and 55 minutes for those who arrived by public service/unknown transportation, important discrepancies considering the need to administer stroke drugs as quickly as possible.

The ambulance arrivals also were more likely to be admitted to the hospital or intensive care, at 93% of the time, rather than being sent home. Walk-ins with a diagnosis of stroke were admitted 58% of the time, vs. public services/unknown arrivals, at 52%.

Mohammad called the findings “a wake-up call for the public and ER triage staff. Whether patients arrive by foot or ambulance, ER triage staff need to have these patients evaluated urgently – as if they are having a heart attack.“

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