Stroke guideline shows data works in health care

It's a model for hospital treatment of other conditions. Standard protocols, combined with patient data collection from the point of entry, can deliver results in the form of saved lives.

One of the big mysteries in modern health care is whether collecting and organizing data really can improve outcomes.

Yes, it can.

Strokes have answered the question. Almost 800,000 Americans get a stroke each year, and up to 500,000 present with a transient ischemic attack (TIA) known as a "warning stroke."

To get a handle on this the American Stroke Association launched a program called Get With the Guidelines-Stroke early in the last decade, urging that hospitals set up stroke centers and follow identical, data-driven procedures.

Now a study in Circulation, of 1 million patient records gathered from 2003-2009, shows the approach is working, cutting in-hospital death rates by 10%.

A patient registry from Outcome Inc. is a big part of the process. The tool implements the guidelines on stroke care, automatically generating information for patients and referring physicians. A Primary Stroke Center also uses the software to maintain adherence to the guidelines through what is called an Acute Stroke Treatment Program.

There is more here than a computer program, as the FAQ for the program makes clear. Clinicians are told what to do, from the moment a patient arrives through rehabilitation.

There are elements of a checklist here, but one based on individual data. The system is also expandable, with dozens of peer-reviewed documents having been incorporated into it since it was created.

Stroke is a unique condition. It is life-threatening, it is sudden, it is complex. This, and the support of the American Heart Association, of which the stroke group is a part, helped drive approval participation. The proven success, and the high profitability of care under the guidelines, should soon make this the standard protocol.

If such standard protocols can be created, implemented, and proven in stroke care, however, they should be possible with other conditions. That's why this story is more than a medical self-congratulation.

It's a model for hospital treatment of other conditions. Standard protocols, combined with patient data collection from the point of entry, can deliver results in the form of saved lives.

Can they also deliver savings?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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