Diagnostic accuracy of stroke referrals from primary care, emergency room physicians, and ambulance staff using the face arm speech test.
Harbison J., Hossain O., Jenkinson D., Davis J., Louw SJ., Ford GA.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Timely referral of appropriate patients to acute stroke units is necessary for effective provision of skilled care. We compared the characteristics of referrals with suspected stroke to an academic acute stroke unit via 3 primary referral routes: ambulance paramedics using a rapid ambulance protocol and stroke recognition instrument, the Face Arm Speech Test; primary care doctors (PCDs); and emergency room (ER) referrals. METHODS: Patient characteristics, final diagnosis, and admission delay were recorded in all suspected acute stroke referrals in a 6-month period. RESULTS: Four hundred eighty-seven patients (356 strokes/transient ischemic attacks) were admitted by the 3 routes: 178 by ambulance, 216 by PCDs, and 93 through the ER. The proportion of nonstrokes admitted by each route was similar (23%, 29%, and 29%, respectively). Ambulance paramedics' stroke diagnosis was correct in 144 of 183 (79%) stroke patients who initially presented to them. Thirty-nine of 66 strokes/transient ischemic attacks referred via ER were taken there following initial ambulance assessment. Compared with PCDs, paramedics referred more total anterior circulation (39% versus 14%, P<0.0001) and fewer lacunar strokes (14% versus 31%, P<0.001) and admitted more patients (46% versus 12%, P<0.01) within 3 hours of symptom onset. The most common nonstroke conditions were seizures, infections and confusion, cardiovascular collapse, and cerebral tumors. Paramedics admitted more patients with seizures. CONCLUSIONS: Misdiagnosis of stroke is common in the ER and by PCDs. Paramedics using the Face Arm Speech Test achieved high levels of detection and diagnostic accuracy of stroke.