San Diego Sets Sights on Stroke-Free County; Infographic Helps ID Stroke Signs

Feb 11, 2013, 9:15 AM


San Diego County in California has set out to become the nation’s first “heart attack and stroke-free zone.” In a collaborative effort, local hospitals and health care providers are using innovative health information technology and focusing heavily on prevention to achieve this important goal, while the public health community continues to work toward making the county a healthier place to live.

The community was inspired to set this unprecedented public health benchmark when the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) launched the Right Care Initiative in 2008, setting a statewide goal of reaching the 90th percentile nationally for controlling many of the factors which lead to heart attacks and strokes. Prior to 2008, 16 million Californians – about 44 percent of the population – were affected by chronic disease, half of whom suffered from more than one chronic condition. 

DMHC has formed key partnerships with California health plans and medical groups, the California Chronic Care Coalition, University of California, American Diabetes Association, American Heart/Stroke Association and community organizations throughout the state. As a result, doctors, patients, and community organizations are saturated with traditional and social media that stress the importance of being proactive.

Communities strive to meet the Right Care Initiative goals through the enhanced practice of patient-centered, evidence-based medicine focusing on the following efforts:

  • engaging patients more actively to improve their health with diet and exercise;
  • involving pharmacists as part of the patient’s care team; and
  • learning proper medication protocol.

Since the Initiative started almost five years ago, eight of the nine largest health plans in California have made overall improvements on heart and diabetes quality measures, 11 groups in California have reached the 90th percentile of clinical control measures, and DMHC has assisted more than one million Californians to resolve their health plan problems.

San Diego is just one community among many waging a battle against chronic disease and the enormous toll it exacts on quality and years of life. Stroke alone takes more than 140,000 lives each year.  According to the American Stroke Association, only two-thirds of Americans know at least one of the seven warning signs of stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) partnered with the Ad Council to launch their first national multimedia public service campaign to raise awareness in recognizing and responding to the warning signs of stroke by using the acronym: F.A.S.T.

Ad Council research shows that 28 percent of Americans wouldn’t recognize the signs of stroke, though fast reaction to the signs could help prevent disability and death.

F.A.S.T. is:

  • Face Drooping - Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness - Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?  
  • Speech Difficulty - Is speech slurred? Is he or she unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "the sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 911 - If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get him or her to the hospital immediately.

>>Bonus Links: For additional resources to help spread the word about the warning signs and critical response steps for a stroke visit the American Stroke Association. For more information on San Diego’s continued efforts to become the nation’s first “heart attack and stroke-free zone” click here.

The American Stroke Association also recently updated guidelines on emergency hospital treatment for patients arriving with possible stroke symptoms, including administering clot dissolving therapy within 60 minutes of arrival.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.