UCLA Health launches what is reportedly the first mobile stroke unit on the West Coast, aiming to rapidly deliver brain-saving medications to stroke patients in the field who may otherwise face debilitating delays in treatment.

The mobile stroke unit consists of an ambulance equipped with a mobile CT scanner designed to enable physicians to diagnose and treat strokes in the field with appropriate medications, as well as a mobile blood-testing laboratory. Also on board are a neurologist, critical care nurse, CT technologist, and paramedic.

“Rapid response is critical, because the sooner a stroke is treated, the better the patient’s outcome,” says Dr May Nour, medical director of the UCLA Arline and Henry Gluck Stroke Rescue Program, in a media release from UCLA Health Sciences. “We know from research at UCLA that in a typical stroke, every minute that goes by without treatment, 2 million brain cells die.”

“With the UCLA Health Mobile Stroke Unit, we are bringing the hospital to the patient instead of the patient to the hospital, in order to save as much brain as possible,” adds Dr Jeffrey Saver, director of the UCLA Comprehensive Stroke Center.

In the pilot program’s first phase, the specialized stroke unit began responding in September to select 911 calls in Santa Monica in coordination with the Santa Monica Fire Department. With support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the unit’s range will soon expand to other parts of Los Angeles County, possibly including Compton, Carson, Long Beach, and Westwood. Ultimately, program organizers hope, the unit will operate in other areas of the county and may be the first of a fleet of four to nine units serving the entire county, the release explains.

As part of the initial phase, a neurologist specializing in stroke treatment will be riding in the unit. As the program develops, the neurologist will oversee care via a live video and voice connection from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

The UCLA stroke unit will be the West Coast anchor of the first national demonstration project to gather data on the degree of improved patient outcomes and cost-effectiveness with accelerated field treatment. Positive results from the study could enable the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other insurers to reimburse emergency medical service and hospital systems for mobile stroke clinical activities.

The design, build and clinical rollout of the unit were supported by a philanthropic donation to UCLA by the Arline and Henry Gluck Foundation. This past summer, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to provide additional funding of nearly $1.5 million to enable the vehicle to operate every week, instead of the original plan to operate every other week, and to extend the life of the pilot program from 18 to 30 months.

The additional funding also will increase the geographic reach of those served by the unit and enhance the quality of data gathered through the project.  The funding will come from Measure B, a county parcel tax dedicated to supporting emergency and trauma services, the release continues.

“To be able to take care of stroke patients in the very first minutes after onset, when there is the most brain to save, is our ultimate goal,” Nour states. “Recovery and quality of life for stroke survivors is of utmost importance. By providing treatment in the most efficient timing, we offer patients the greatest possibility of improved clinical recovery.”

[Source(s): University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health Sciences, Newswise]