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BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Patients with suspected stroke first assessed by ambulance paramedics require early recognition to facilitate appropriate triage and early treatment. We determined paramedic's accuracy in detecting acute stroke signs by comparing agreement between neurological signs recorded in the Face Arm Speech Test (FAST), a stroke recognition instrument, by paramedics on the scene and by stroke physicians after admission. METHODS: Suspected stroke patients admitted by ambulance paramedics directly to an acute stroke unit through a rapid ambulance protocol were examined by a trainee stroke neurologist or admitting stroke physician over a 1-year period. Recorded neurological signs (facial weakness, arm weakness, speech disturbance) in confirmed acute stroke/transient ischemic attack (TIA) cases were compared between paramedics and the stroke neurologist/physician. RESULTS: Ambulance crews referred 278 suspected stroke patients of whom 217 (78%) had confirmed stroke (n=189) or TIA (n=28); 95% were examined by the stroke neurologist (median 18 hours after paramedic assessment). Recorded signs and agreement between paramedics and stroke physicians in confirmed stroke group were: facial weakness, 68% versus 70% (kappa=0.49; 95% CI: 0.36 to 0.62); arm weakness, 96% versus 95% (kappa=0.77; 95% CI: 0.55 to 0.99); and speech disturbance, 79% versus 77% (kappa=0.69; 95% CI: 0.56 to 0.82). Interrater agreement was complete for arm weakness in 98% cases. CONCLUSIONS: Recognition of neurological deficits by ambulance paramedics using FAST shows good agreement with physician assessment, even allowing for temporal evolution of deficits. The high prevalence and good agreement for arm weakness suggest that this sign may have the greatest usefulness for prehospital ambulance triage and paramedic-based neuroprotective trials.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1355 - 1359


Acute Disease, Aged, Arm, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Medical Technicians, Face, Female, Humans, Male, Muscle Weakness, Neurologic Examination, Observer Variation, Physicians, Speech Disorders, Stroke