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© 2014 American College of Emergency Physicians. Study objective We examine acute stroke patients' decisions and delays en route to the hospital after onset of symptoms. Methods This was a qualitative study carried out in the West Midlands, United Kingdom. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 30 patients (6 accompanied by partners). Patients were asked about their previous experience of having had a stroke and their initial engagement with health services. "One sheet of paper" and thematic analyses were used. Results Three potential types of delay were identified from onset of symptoms to accessing stroke care in the hospital: primary delays caused by lack of recognition of symptoms or not dealing with symptoms immediately, secondary delays caused by initial contact with nonemergency services, and tertiary delays in which health service providers did not interpret the patients' presenting symptoms as suggestive of stroke. The main factors determining the speed of action by patients were the presence and influence of a bystander and the perceived seriousness of symptoms. Conclusion Despite campaigns to increase public awareness of stroke symptoms, the behavior of both patients and health service providers apparently led to delays in the recognition of and response to stroke symptoms, potentially reducing access to optimum and timely acute specialist assessment and treatment for acute stroke.

Original publication




Journal article


Annals of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date





279 - 287.e3