IU Health Neuroscience Center

New Mobile Unit Will Race To Patients Having Strokes

Highly Skilled

March 26, 2018

IU Health is launching the state’s first mobile stroke treatment unit -- that will race to the scene of a patient having a stroke, provide a CT scan and, if needed, give life saving, clot-busting medicine on the spot.

Think of it as a mini, neuro ICU on wheels, says Jason Mackey, M.D., a neurologist with IU Health, who has been a key player in getting the Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit up and running.

IU Health’s unit, one of fewer than 10 in the nation, will launch next month with a goal of reducing the detrimental, long-term effects of stroke – and death.

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“Minute after minute after minute counts,” says Dr. Mackey. “So the idea here is to reduce the amount of time it takes to get somebody properly evaluated with a CT scanner, with a neurologist and then treat them as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of brain tissue that is lost.” 

Quicker treatment of stroke has proven to keep people in their homes and communities and out of nursing homes, by reducing disability, he says. Stroke is one of the largest causes of disability and it costs, roughly, $200,000 per person per year to care for somebody that has a disability from stroke.

The mobile stroke unit will save, on average, 30 minutes of response time. And each minute in stroke is associated with 2 million neurons lost. That’s an average of 60 million neurons saved.

“The biggest thing is we are getting care to them so much faster,” says Nicole Meyer, RN, the mobile stroke program coordinator. “We are actually working in negative time. We are bringing the care to them and we are able to do all those critical things before they get to the hospital.”

Details Of The Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit

Staff: The unit is staffed at all times with a neurologist, a nurse, a CT technician, a paramedic and an EMT. “This is packed with expertise,” says Dr. Mackey.

Mobilization: IU Health has worked closely with IEMS on the program. The unit will be dispatched via the 9-1-1 system to potential stroke patients. The unit does not replace any other emergency services but, instead, complements it.

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Treatment: Once on the scene, the patient will be loaded into the unit, given a full evaluation, as well as blood work. A CT scan will be administered and the neurologist will determine if there is a clot/blockage or a brain bleed. If the patient has a clot, medicine will be given immediately, on the spot, to dissolve it. 

Inside: The CT scanner inside the unit is the exact same scanner that would be found in the neuro intensive care unit. There is also a mobile lab for evaluating blood work. There are four cameras spaced out to collect images.

Data collaboration: All images and scans will be seen electronically in real time back at IU Health Methodist Hospital, where patients will be taken. When a patient arrives at Methodist, doctors and surgeons will know exactly where the patient needs to be and what medical care is required. 

Research pioneer: IU Health’s unit is part of a national study of six mobile stroke units. “You’ve got to have pioneers across the country who are willing to take the risk,” says Dr. Mackey. “I’m happy to say IU is one of those. The idea behind the study is to show this helps people and it makes financial sense. Everything we are seeing so far shows it’s going to be robustly cost effective.  

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And, equally as important, Dr. Mackey hopes the attention the mobile stroke unit gets will bring to light how crucial time is when treating stroke. 

“I can’t say it enough. If you or a loved one is concerned about a stroke, worried someone is having a stroke, call 9-1-1,” Dr. Mackey says. “Don’t drive yourself in. Call an ambulance. That gets you into the system faster. Don’t wait and see what happens. Don’t cross your fingers and hope it goes away.”

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More About Stroke

When it comes to symptoms, always remember the acronym FAST.

Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven or lopsided?

Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the person able to correctly repeat the words?

Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 immediately. Also note the time when the first symptoms appeared. Emergency responders will want to know.

Risk factors for stroke: High blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, poor diet, heart disease, obesity, carotid or peripheral artery disease, atrial fibrillation and sickle cell disease.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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