Background: We assessed patient outcomes 90 days after hospital admission for stroke following a multidisciplinary intervention targeting evidence-based management of fever, hyperglycaemia, and swallowing dysfunction in acute stroke units (ASUs).
Methods: In the Quality in Acute Stroke Care (QASC) study, a single-blind cluster randomised controlled trial, we randomised ASUs (clusters) in New South Wales, Australia, with immediate access to CT and on-site high dependency units, to intervention or control group. Patients were eligible if they spoke English, were aged 18 years or older, had had an ischaemic stroke or intracerebral haemorrhage, and presented within 48 h of onset of symptoms. Intervention ASUs received treatment protocols to manage fever, hyperglycaemia, and swallowing dysfunction with multidisciplinary team building workshops to address implementation barriers. Control ASUs received only an abridged version of existing guidelines. We recruited pre-intervention and post-intervention patient cohorts to compare 90-day death or dependency (modified Rankin scale [mRS] ≥2), functional dependency (Barthel index), and SF-36 physical and mental component summary scores. Research assistants, the statistician, and patients were masked to trial groups. All analyses were done by intention to treat. This trial is registered at the Australia New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry (ANZCTR), number ACTRN12608000563369.
Findings: 19 ASUs were randomly assigned to intervention (n=10) or control (n=9). Of 6564 assessed for eligibility, 1696 patients' data were obtained (687 pre-intervention; 1009 post-intervention). Results showed that, irrespective of stroke severity, intervention ASU patients were significantly less likely to be dead or dependent (mRS ≥2) at 90 days than control ASU patients (236 [42%] of 558 patients in the intervention group vs 259 [58%] of 449 in the control group, p=0·002; number needed to treat 6·4; adjusted absolute difference 15·7% [95% CI 5·8-25·4]). They also had a better SF-36 mean physical component summary score (45·6 [SD 10·2] in the intervention group vs 42·5 [10·5] in the control group, p=0·002; adjusted absolute difference 3·4 [95% CI 1·2-5·5]) but no improvement was recorded in mortality (21 [4%] of 558 in intervention group and 24 [5%] of 451 in the control group, p=0·36), SF-36 mean mental component summary score (49·5 [10·9] in the intervention group vs 49·4 [10·6] in the control group, p=0·69) or functional dependency (Barthel Index ≥60: 487 [92%] of 532 patients vs 380 [90%] of 423 patients; p=0·44).
Interpretation: Implementation of multidisciplinary supported evidence-based protocols initiated by nurses for the management of fever, hyperglycaemia, and swallowing dysfunction delivers better patient outcomes after discharge from stroke units. Our findings show the possibility to augment stroke unit care.
Funding: National Health & Medical Research Council ID 353803, St Vincent's Clinic Foundation, the Curran Foundation, Australian Diabetes Society-Servier, the College of Nursing, and Australian Catholic University.
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