10 Vital Things to Look for in a Stroke Center

If your parent is at risk for a stroke, perhaps because he's had one before or there's a strong family history, it's important to be prepared for a stroke emergency. One essential element of preparation is determining in advance where your parent should be taken if he's having a stroke.

The best treatment for stroke can be found at a primary stroke center, a hospital that's been certified by the Joint Commission as meeting the recommendations for primary stroke centers published by the Brain Attack Coalition (BAC) and the American Stroke Association.

To find a primary stroke center near your parent's home, visit the Joint Commission's certified organization finder, select the state in which your parent lives, then select "Primary Stroke Center" under Certified Program.

You may find that the closest primary stroke center is simply too far away. Because it's so important that treatment be started as soon as possible, it's better for your parent to go to a competent facility nearby than to a primary stroke center that's hours away.

Use this list of questions -- modified from the BAC's checklist for communities -- to determine whether your local hospital meets the most important criteria.

Stroke Center Questions

  • Does the hospital have a stroke response team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • Are the hospital's emergency physicians specifically trained to diagnose and treat acute stroke?
  • Are emergency physicians capable of treating acute ischemic stroke patients with intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) within one hour of their arrival at the hospital?
  • Is the tPA treatment described above available 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • Does the hospital offer coordinated stroke care beyond the evaluation in the emergency room?
  • Is a neurosurgeon on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • Does the hospital have someone on staff who can perform and interpret brain imaging (a CT scan or MRI) 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • Is the hospital laboratory open 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • Does the hospital measure and track patient outcomes, conduct regular evaluations, and improve programs accordingly?
  • Does the hospital staff responsible for treating stroke patients receive at least eight hours of continuing medical education each year?