The positive predictive value of stroke identification by ambulance clinicians in North East England: a retrospective cohort study

Graham McClelland, Darren Flynn, Helen Rodgers, Christopher Price

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Abstract

Introduction/background Accurate prehospital identification of patients who had an acute stroke enables rapid conveyance to specialist units for time-dependent treatments such as thrombolysis and thrombectomy. Misidentification leads to patients who had a ‘stroke mimic’ (SM) being inappropriately triaged to specialist units. We evaluated the positive predictive value (PPV) of prehospital stroke identification by ambulance clinicians in the North East of England.
Methods This service evaluation linked routinely collected records from a UK regional ambulance service identifying adults with any clinical impression of suspected stroke to diagnostic data from four National Health Service hospital trusts between 1 June 2013 and 31 May 2016. The reference standard for a confirmed stroke diagnosis was inclusion in Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme data or a hospital diagnosis of stroke or transient ischaemic attack in Hospital Episode Statistics. PPV was calculated as a measure of diagnostic accuracy.
Results Ambulance clinicians in North East England identified 5645 patients who had a suspected stroke (mean age 73.2 years, 48% male). At least one Face Arm Speech Test (FAST) symptom was documented for 93% of patients who had a suspected stroke but a positive FAST was only documented for 51%. Stroke, or transient ischaemic attack, was the final diagnosis for 3483 (62%) patients. SM (false positives) accounted for 38% of suspected strokes identified by ambulance clinicians and included a wide range of non-stroke diagnoses including infections, seizures and migraine.
Discussion In this large multisite data set, identification of patients who had a stroke by ambulance clinicians had a PPV rate of 62% (95% CI 61 to 63). Most patients who had a suspected stroke had at least one FAST symptom, but failure to document a complete test was common. Training for stroke identification and SM rates need to be considered when planning service provision and capacity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEmergency Medicine Journal
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2020

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