Stroke is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States and worldwide and is associated with enormous health care expenditures.1 Approximately 800 000 new or recurrent strokes occur annually in the United States, and of these, about 87% are ischemic cerebral infarctions.1
Since 1996, when the use of intravenous tissue plasminogen activator was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of patients with acute ischemic stroke within 3 hours of symptom onset, there has been a sea change in the approach to identification and management of stroke patients to improve their outcomes. Parallel to these advances, there has been an equally important move toward a systems-based approach to stroke care. The very short time window needed for acute therapies to reverse brain injury has inspired several national and statewide initiatives to improve hospital care of the stroke patient. The Brain Attack Coalition criteria for primary stroke centers, first recommended in 2000 and revised in 2011, have formed the basis for Joint Commission certification for stroke center status.2 Additional certification for comprehensive stroke centers begins in July 2012.3 These efforts are rooted in a developing evidence base demonstrating that organized, systems-based care, informed by guidelines and quality assurance efforts, can improve outcomes. There is evidence, for example, that patients with acute stroke are more likely to survive, return home, and regain independence if treated in hospital units specializing in the care of patients with stroke.4
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