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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.
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.
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.
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