The Joint Commission recently certified Massachusetts General Hospital as an Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center. This certification is designed to recognize the specific capabilities of hospitals that can treat the most complex stroke case, and Mass General is the first hospital in the state of Massachusetts to receive the honor.

Here, Lee Schwamm, MD, director of Mass General’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and division chief of Mass General's Stroke Service explains the certification.

What is the Comprehensive Stroke Certification, and why is it so significant?

The certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center reflects Mass General's commitment to providing the highest level of care possible for patients with advanced cerebrovascular disease, and demonstrates that Mass General has put in place the people, the infrastructure and the high reliability systems of care needed to consistently deliver superior care and outcomes. Mass General chose to become a certified center in Massachusetts because we believe that a tiered system of care will be critical to addressing the needs of patients with the most severe stroke - those caused by blockage of the largest arteries in the brain.

What does this certification mean for patients?

When a patient or family member is experiencing a stroke, they want to be confident that the emergency medical system will route them to the most appropriate hospital based on their condition. We need to balance geography and travel distance with the availability of advanced resources so that every community in Massachusetts has access to hospitals that can respond in the earliest phases of stroke and escalate the care when necessary to advanced centers. Through its Telestroke network, Mass General has lead the efforts in New England to create a tiered system of care so that over 6.5 million residents in New England have rapid access to care administered in their local hospital supervised by a member of Mass General's Stroke Service, and access to rapid endovascular clot retrieval after expedited transfer to Mass General to ensure the best possible outcomes.

What does this certification say about the Massachusetts General Hospital Stroke Program?

The certification process involves months of preparation and a rigorous two-day onsite survey that reviews all aspects of complex stroke care from the simplest assessments of a patient’s condition on arrival, to the most intricate aspects of operative stroke procedures and protocols. The decision to seek certification demonstrates that Mass General continues to be deeply committed to advancing the care of stroke patients in Boston, New England and nationwide, and that our groundbreaking research and excellent clinical care will continue to impact the lives of patients, restore hope and prevent the disability associated with stroke.

How important is quality to your team and Massachusetts General Hospital overall?

Mass General has a long history of placing quality and care at the center of its mission. Over the past 15 years, I have developed and led the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines-Stroke program, which is the largest stroke registry in the world. This national registry now contains over 5 million patient encounters at over 2,000 US hospitals and is the leading source of information and research about the quality of stroke care in the US.

Stroke is an emergency situation that can often have layers of complexity. How does your team ensure that they are continuously evolving to provide the best possible outcomes?

The cornerstone of any program focused on quality is the constant monitoring, evaluation and iterative improvement of every link in the chain of a complex process. Team members from the CSC spend time every week examining patient care, extracting vital information from medical records and meeting in small groups to devise innovative solutions to overcome challenges. One major focus has been to shorten the time it takes to get stroke treatment started, decreasing the amount of time patients need to stay in the hospital and ensuring the best possible long-term recovery for every patient who passes through our doors. We celebrate the effort and dedication of our staff who make such an amazing program possible.

Learn more about Mass General's Stroke Service