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Estimating the impact of stroke unit care in a whole population: an epidemiological study using routine data
  1. Peter Langhorne1,
  2. James D Lewsey2,
  3. Pardeep S Jhund1,
  4. Michelle Gillies2,
  5. Jim W T Chalmers3,
  6. Adam Redpath3,
  7. Andrew Briggs2,
  8. Matthew Walters1,
  9. Simon Capewell4,
  10. John J V McMurray1,
  11. Kate MacIntyre2
  1. 1Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences Division, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Section of Public Health and Health Policy, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Information Services Division, Edinburgh, UK
  4. 4Department of Public Health, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor P Langhorne, Academic Section of Geriatric Medicine, Level 3 University Block, Royal Infirmary, Glasgow G31 2ER, UK; p.langhorne{at}


Background and purpose Randomised trials indicate that organised inpatient (stroke unit) care has an important impact on patient outcomes with an absolute risk difference (ARD) of 3% for survival and 5% for returning home. However, it is unclear what impact this complex intervention actually has in routine practice. A comprehensive national dataset was used to study the impact of stroke unit implementation.

Methods The Scottish linked discharge database was used to identify all patients admitted to hospital with an incident stroke. Analyses compared case fatality and discharge home (adjusted for age, sex, deprivation and comorbidity) for hospitals with or without a stroke unit during four consecutive study periods: 1986–1990, 1991–1995, 1996–2000 and 2001–2005.

Results During the study period, the percentage of admissions to hospitals that had a stroke unit increased from 0% to 87%, the 6 month case fatality decreased from 45% to 29% and discharges home increased from 46% to 59%. Adjusted ORs (95% CI) for case fatality (stroke unit versus no unit) in each study period were as follows: not calculable (no units before 1991), 0.83 (0.78–0.89), 0.90 (0.86–0.94) and 0.87 (0.82–0.91). These equate to an ARD of 3.0% over the whole study period. Equivalent data for discharge home indicated an increased odds of discharge home: not calculable, 1.23 (1.15–1.31), 1.15 (1.10–1.21) and 1.17 (1.11–1.23) with an overall ARD of 5%.

Conclusions These results indicate a positive impact of a policy of stroke unit care on case fatality and discharge home. The estimated impact, after adjusting for case mix, appears very similar to that calculated using clinical trial data.

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  • Funding This study was funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO), grant No CZH/4/389.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the local university ethics committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.