Access to Neurological Medical Care

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Stroke is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the United States. North Carolina is in the “Stroke Belt”, a multi-state region that has especially high stroke mortality rates. Hospitalizations and deaths due to stroke are even higher in the eastern part of the state where there are many rural areas.

Dr. Mehul Patel researches access to acute stroke care in North Carolina. Research Hub staff helped him create maps to accompany his soon-to-be published study, and performed network analysis to highlight accessibility of strokes-specific hospital resources by geographic area.

Patel came to the Research Hub with a list of maps, hoping to learn more about spatial patterns associated with hospitals and different demographics across North Carolina. Among other patterns, Patel wished to show drive time to hospitals equipped to handle the most severe neurological emergencies. The Research Hub GIS Librarian and a Research Assistant used network analysis of hospital locations and roads to create a map displaying drive times to North Carolina’s 17 hospitals with neurological intensive care units (ICUs) where critically ill stroke patients are treated. The map shows that during neurological emergencies such as strokes, residents in wide swaths of rural land are over one hour driving time to the closest hospital with a neuro-ICU.

Effective planning and coordination of limited, geographically concentrated hospital resources are needed to ensure all stroke patients across North Carolina have access to the highest quality of care possible. Reducing disparities in stroke care has the potential to improve the overall health of NC communities.