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Patients who experience Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) should be assessed and treated in a specialist clinic to reduce risk of further TIA or stroke. But referrals are often delayed. We aimed to identify published studies describing pathways for emergency assessment and referral of patients with suspected TIA at first medical contact: primary care; ambulance services; and emergency department.
We conducted a scoping literature review. We searched four databases (PubMed, CINAHL, Web of Science, Scopus). We screened studies for eligibility. We extracted and analysed data to describe setting, assessment and referral processes reported in primary research on referral of suspected TIA patients directly to specialist outpatient services.
We identified eight studies in nine papers from five countries: 1/9 randomized trial; 6/9 before-and-after designs; 2/9 descriptive account. Five pathways were used by family doctors and three by Emergency Department (ED) physicians. None were used by paramedics. Clinicians identified TIA patients using a checklist incorporating the ABCD2 tool to describe risk of further stroke, online decision support tool or clinical judgement. They referred to a specialist clinic, either directly or via a telephone helpline. Anti-platelet medication was often given, usually aspirin unless contraindicated. Some patients underwent neurological and blood tests before referral and discharge. Five studies reported reduced incident of stroke at 90 days, from 6–10 percent predicted rate to 1.2-2.1 percent actual rate. Between 44 percent and 83 percent of suspected TIA cases in these studies were directly referred to stroke clinics through the pathways.
Research literature has focused on assessment and referral by family doctors and ED physicians to reduce hospitalization of TIA patients. No pathways for paramedic use were reported. Since many suspected TIA patients present to ambulance services, effective pre-hospital assessment and referral pathways are needed. We will use review results to develop a paramedic referral pathway to test in a feasibility trial.
Most callers to emergency ambulance services are transported to hospital emergency departments (EDs), but ambulance services receive no information on patient outcomes. Pre-Hospital and Emergency Department (PHED) Data is a two-year mixed-methods observational study of the process and potential benefits of linking ambulance and ED data to allow analysis of patient outcomes. We report on our first aim, to examine the potential opportunities and challenges of this data linkage initiative.
We approached six hospital trusts in an English metropolitan area. We used a structured learning log to collect data on the process, time input and reflections. We analyzed these data with descriptive statistics, and qualitatively for themes.
All six trusts agreed to participate. We used an algorithm based on date, time and patient demographics to link data. We achieved a dataset of 775,018 records covering 2012 – 2016, and a linkage rate of 81 percent.
Initial set up tasks within the ambulance service took 30 hours 20 minutes. We then identified five stages of tasks with each hospital trust: negotiating senior approval; exploring data availability; information governance agreement; data transfer; and linking. Mean time spent by the research team on these processes was 30 hours 30 minutes per trust (range: 17 hours 20 minutes to 43 hours 10 minutes), plus additional time from staff of hospital trusts. The most intensive phases were: negotiating senior approval (mean: 8 hours 5 minutes), and data linking (mean: 12 hours 40 minutes). The stage which took the longest was information governance (mean: 19 weeks).
Key themes included the positive attitudes of trusts to participating, the range of decision makers involved, and the need for sustained input from the research team.
We found the process of data linkage was feasible, but requires dedicated time from research and trust staff, over a prolonged period, to achieve set up. Linked data are now being analyzed.
New approaches are needed to safely reduce emergency admissions to hospital by targeting interventions effectively in primary care. A predictive risk stratification tool (PRISM) identifies each registered patient's risk of an emergency admission in the following year, allowing practitioners to identify and manage those at higher risk. We evaluated the introduction of PRISM in primary care in one area of the United Kingdom, assessing its impact on emergency admissions and other service use.
We conducted a randomized stepped wedge trial with cluster-defined control and intervention phases, and participant-level anonymized linked outcomes. PRISM was implemented in eleven primary care practice clusters (total thirty-two practices) over a year from March 2013. We analyzed routine linked data outcomes for 18 months.
We included outcomes for 230,099 registered patients, assigned to ranked risk groups.
Overall, the rate of emergency admissions was higher in the intervention phase than in the control phase: adjusted difference in number of emergency admissions per participant per year at risk, delta = .011 (95 percent Confidence Interval, CI .010, .013). Patients in the intervention phase spent more days in hospital per year: adjusted delta = .029 (95 percent CI .026, .031). Both effects were consistent across risk groups.
Primary care activity increased in the intervention phase overall delta = .011 (95 percent CI .007, .014), except for the two highest risk groups which showed a decrease in the number of days with recorded activity.
Introduction of a predictive risk model in primary care was associated with increased emergency episodes across the general practice population and at each risk level, in contrast to the intended purpose of the model. Future evaluation work could assess the impact of targeting of different services to patients across different levels of risk, rather than the current policy focus on those at highest risk.
Emergency admissions to hospital are a major financial burden on health services. In one area of the United Kingdom (UK), we evaluated a predictive risk stratification tool (PRISM) designed to support primary care practitioners to identify and manage patients at high risk of admission. We assessed the costs of implementing PRISM and its impact on health services costs. At the same time as the study, but independent of it, an incentive payment (‘QOF’) was introduced to encourage primary care practitioners to identify high risk patients and manage their care.
We conducted a randomized stepped wedge trial in thirty-two practices, with cluster-defined control and intervention phases, and participant-level anonymized linked outcomes. We analysed routine linked data on patient outcomes for 18 months (February 2013 – September 2014). We assigned standard unit costs in pound sterling to the resources utilized by each patient. Cost differences between the two study phases were used in conjunction with differences in the primary outcome (emergency admissions) to undertake a cost-effectiveness analysis.
We included outcomes for 230,099 registered patients. We estimated a PRISM implementation cost of GBP0.12 per patient per year.
Costs of emergency department attendances, outpatient visits, emergency and elective admissions to hospital, and general practice activity were higher per patient per year in the intervention phase than control phase (adjusted δ = GBP76, 95 percent Confidence Interval, CI GBP46, GBP106), an effect that was consistent and generally increased with risk level.
Despite low reported use of PRISM, it was associated with increased healthcare expenditure. This effect was unexpected and in the opposite direction to that intended. We cannot disentangle the effects of introducing the PRISM tool from those of imposing the QOF targets; however, since across the UK predictive risk stratification tools for emergency admissions have been introduced alongside incentives to focus on patients at risk, we believe that our findings are generalizable.
Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) is a neurologic event with symptom resolution within 24 hours. Early specialist assessment of TIA reduces risk of stroke and death. National United Kingdom (UK) guidelines recommend patients with TIA are seen in specialist clinics within 24 hours (high risk) or seven days (low risk).
We aimed to develop a complex intervention for patients with low risk TIA presenting to the emergency ambulance service. The intervention is being tested in the TIER feasibility trial, in line with Medical Research Council (MRC) guidance on staged development and evaluation of complex interventions.
We conducted three interrelated activities to produce the TIER intervention:
•Survey of UK Ambulance Services (n = 13) to gather information about TIA pathways already in use
•Scoping review of literature describing prehospital care of patients with TIA
•Synthesis of data and definition of intervention by specialist panel of: paramedics; Emergency Department (ED) and stroke consultants; service users; ambulance service managers.
The panel used results to define the TIER intervention, to include:
1.Protocol for paramedics to assess patients presenting with TIA and identify and refer low risk patients for prompt (< 7day) specialist review at TIA clinic
2.Patient Group Directive and information pack to allow paramedic administration of aspirin to patients left at home with referral to TIA clinic
3.Referral process via ambulance control room
4.Training package for paramedics
5.Agreement with TIA clinic service provider including rapid review of referred patients
We followed MRC guidance to develop a clinical intervention for assessment and referral of low risk TIA patients attended by emergency ambulance paramedic. We are testing feasibility of implementing and evaluating this intervention in the TIER feasibility trial which may lead to fully powered multicentre randomized controlled trial (RCT) if predefined progression criteria are met.
A predictive risk stratification tool (PRISM) to estimate a patient's risk of an emergency hospital admission in the following year was trialled in general practice in an area of the United Kingdom. PRISM's introduction coincided with a new incentive payment (‘QOF’) in the regional contract for family doctors to identify and manage the care of people at high risk of emergency hospital admission.
Alongside the trial, we carried out a complementary qualitative study of processes of change associated with PRISM's implementation. We aimed to describe how PRISM was understood, communicated, adopted, and used by practitioners, managers, local commissioners and policy makers. We gathered data through focus groups, interviews and questionnaires at three time points (baseline, mid-trial and end-trial). We analyzed data thematically, informed by Normalisation Process Theory (1).
All groups showed high awareness of PRISM, but raised concerns about whether it could identify patients not yet known, and about whether there were sufficient community-based services to respond to care needs identified. All practices reported using PRISM to fulfil their QOF targets, but after the QOF reporting period ended, only two practices continued to use it. Family doctors said PRISM changed their awareness of patients and focused them on targeting the highest-risk patients, though they were uncertain about the potential for positive impact on this group.
Though external factors supported its uptake in the short term, with a focus on the highest risk patients, PRISM did not become a sustained part of normal practice for primary care practitioners.
Increasingly, ambulance services offer alternatives to transfer to the emergency department (ED), when this is better for patients. The introduction of electronic health records (EHR) in ambulance services is encouraged by national policy across the United Kingdom (UK) but roll-out has been variable and complex.
Electronic Records in Ambulances (ERA) is a two-year study which aims to investigate and describe the opportunities and challenges of implementing EHR and associated technology in ambulances to support a safe and effective shift to out of hospital care, including the implications for workforce in terms of training, role and clinical decision-making skills.
Our study includes a scoping review of relevant issues and a baseline assessment of progress in all UK ambulance services in implementing EHR. These will inform four in-depth case studies of services at different stages of implementation, assessing current usage, and examining context.
The scoping review identified themes including: there are many perceived potential benefits of EHR, such as improved safety and remote diagnostics, but as yet little evidence of them; technical challenges to implementation may inhibit uptake and lead to increased workload in the short term; staff implementing EHR may do so selectively or devise workarounds; and EHR may be perceived as a tool of staff surveillance.
Our scoping review identified some complex issues around the implementation of EHR and the relevant challenges, opportunities and workforce implications. These will help to inform our fieldwork and subsequent data analysis in the case study sites, to begin early in 2017. Lessons learned from the experience of implementing EHR so far should inform future development of information technology in ambulance services, and help service providers to understand how best to maximize the opportunities offered by EHR to redesign care.
Patients presenting to emergency ambulance services with Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) are usually conveyed to the Emergency Department (ED) with subsequent referral to specialist assessment at a TIA clinic within one week if at low risk of stroke. There is opportunity for paramedics to refer patients with TIA at low risk of recurrent stroke directly to a specialist TIA clinic, avoiding the transportation and care at the ED however evidence is lacking about current practice, safety and effectiveness of this intervention.
We aimed to describe current service developments across the United Kingdom (UK) for the pre-hospital emergency care of patients with TIA, to inform the development of an intervention for testing.
We surveyed all UK Ambulance Trusts (n = 13) by email, asking them to identify initiatives related to the management of TIA, and followed up services reporting an alternative TIA pathway by telephone to gather further details.
Twelve ambulance services responded to our survey. Eight reported that they had not developed or implemented TIA referral pathways. Three reported currently using a TIA referral pathway; one had discontinued their pathway due to service reconfiguration. All (4/4) pathways used the FAST test and ABCD2 tool to screen patients, in line with national guidelines, and classified patients as low risk if the ABCD2 score was ≤3. All indicated that eligible low-risk TIA patients should be referred by paramedics to specialist care, 2/4 by telephone, and 2/4 by fax.
Although protocol compliance was audited in an initial pilot in one service, no formal evaluation of effectiveness was reported.
Several UK ambulance services have introduced similar referral pathways for low risk TIA patients, avoiding transportation of patients to the ED. Existing initiatives can inform the development of an intervention for evaluation in a randomized trial.