Flying stroke patients to hospitals would save lives, study finds

When a stroke strikes, quick access to emergency care is critical. Getting to a hospital designated as a primary stroke center is even better.

But according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, only 55 percent of Americans have access to a primary stroke center within 60 minutes and less then 25 percent have access in 30 minutes.

The time it takes to get patients to care impacts their chances for survival. And the more time it takes to get care the less opportunity there is for doctors to minimize damage to parts of the brain starved of blood by the clots that often cause strokes. About 2 million neurons die every minute a stroke is left untreated.

“Our findings show that many people do not have timely access to the type of care that they would need to save their life or minimize damage from a stroke,” said Brendan G. Carr, the study’s senior author and an emergency medicine doctor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Carr and his coauthors suggested that using helicopters to transport patients who live far from primary stroke hospitals would improve their outcomes. 

In New Jersey, 40 percent of residents theoretically can reach a stroke hospital within 30 minutes and 90 percent within 60 minutes. Both numbers would rise to 100 percent if air ambulances are used.

In Pennsylvania, 32.5 percent of residents have access within 30 minutes and 71.5 percent within 60 minutes, according to the study. The use of helicopter transport would give 60-minute access to 97.5 percent of the Commonwealth’s residents.