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Receptionists Could Help Prevent Stroke Deaths

Special Reports

Teaching doctors' receptionists to spot the warning signs of strokes could save thousands of lives a year. Educating staff about the warning signs of a stroke, such as a droopy face and speaking difficulties, could lead to improved outcomes, a new pilot study concluded.

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Oxford and was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care for Birmingham and the Black Country. The study looked at a large sample of GP practices in one region of the UK. Researchers asked receptionists to take a series of unannounced calls where actors with various stroke symptoms asked for advice.

In about two-thirds of calls the receptionist acted appropriately, either passing them on to a GP or telling them to contact the emergency services. Generally, the
receptionists were more likely to refer on if more common symptoms were described – a drooping face or mouth, a weak arm or slurred speech – and with the greater number of these symptoms given.

These results are likely to give a good indication of how receptionists would respond if a patient called with stroke symptoms and asked for advice. As the researchers suggest, extra receptionist training about stroke, as well as other life-threatening conditions, could help.

The main symptoms of a stroke can be remembered with the word FAST:

Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the personmay not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped

Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness in one arm

Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake

Time – it is time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability, and is estimated to result in 5.7 million deaths worldwide. Timely recognition of symptoms and prompt medical care is essential for the best outcomes.

The GP is said to be the first point of contact for between a quarter and half of people who have had a stroke or mini-stroke (a transient ischaemic attack or TIA), but not all receive the correct emergency referral. 

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