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Upstate’s first mobile stroke unit comes to URMC

Sep 27, 2018

The University of Rochester Medical Center unveiled upstate New York’s first mobile stroke unit Thursday, describing the vehicle as a “high-tech emergency room on wheels.”

URMC's new mobile stroke unit houses specialized equipment to diagnose and treat stroke victims before they get to a hospital.
Credit University of Rochester Medical Center

It looks like a large ambulance from the outside. Inside, the unit is equipped with specialized equipment including “a portable CT scanner that is capable of imaging the patient’s brain to detect the type of stroke they are experiencing,” URMC said in a press release.

The aim of the mobile unit is to bring specialized care to stroke victims quickly, said Web Pilcher, chair of URMC’s neurosurgery department. It’s a condition, he said, when seconds matter.

“When a clot leaves the heart or the carotid artery and lodges in a major brain blood vessel, that region of brain is starved for oxygen, and two million nerve cells per minute die as that patient waits for help,” Pilcher explained.

URMC estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 people in Monroe County suffer a stroke each year. Stroke is the fifth-most-common cause of death for Americans, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. But researchers say if the clot is caught early, many stroke victims can make a full recovery.

Rochester will be one of only twelve communities in the U.S. to have a mobile stroke unit. “We’re getting this technology in advance of what you would expect, which is that Rochester would be more of an average city and that we would get a technology after it had been rolled out across the country,” Pilcher said. “But we wanted Rochester to be one of the first.”

The mobile unit will initially only respond to calls within the Rochester city limit, Pilcher said. After a three-month pilot program, it will expand its service area to surrounding communities.

URMC's mobile stroke unit carries a portable CT scanner that allows its crew to check patients for blood clots in the brain and start treatment before they arrive at a hospital.
Credit University of Rochester Medical Center

It's the second mobile health-care system to be rolled out in Monroe County in the last months, after Rochester Regional Health launched a mobile mammography unit in August.

National studies of similar stroke units have noted some important benefits, but have also called for more research into their value.

A 2016 study from the Cleveland Clinic, home of the nation’s second mobile stroke unit, found, for example, that “although multiple issues remain yet unanswered,” including clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness, mobile stroke units enable life-saving treatment.

URMC faculty visited the Cleveland Clinic to learn more about how they might bring a mobile unit to Rochester. “We wanted to bring the emergency room to your driveway,” Pilcher said.