For Stroke Prevention, Large Medical Centers May Have the Edge

NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Study Looks at Reasons for Lack of Improvement in Outcomes for Treatment of Unruptured Brain Aneurysms

Jan 31, 2012


Despite advances in the diagnosis and treatment of unruptured brain aneurysms, outcomes have remained stagnant over the last 10 years. This can be explained by the dramatic proliferation of minimally invasive endoscopic coiling procedures at lower-volume community hospitals, where outcomes are inferior.

These findings are reported in a study by neurologists, neurosurgeons and neuro-anesthesiologists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and published in the journal Stroke.

"This isn't a problem with technology but rather the way it has been delivered," says study co-author Dr. Robert A. Solomon, neurosurgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical and the Byron Stookey Professor of Neurological Surgery and chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. "Endoscopic coiling has been hugely helpful for the vast majority of patients, and it has actually been shown to have the potential for better outcomes relative to open surgery. It just hasn't improved the overall picture, at least in New York state, where we focused our study."

The authors say the increased popularity of coiling in smaller community hospitals may stem from the perceived ease of doing the procedure as well as cost concerns, with poor outcomes the result of technical shortcomings or errors in judgment. For instance, community hospitals may choose to perform the procedure on smaller aneurysms despite attendant risks, in part because they lack access to neurosurgeons trained in microsurgical clipping (see below for an explanation of the two treatment options).

Boosting overall outcomes, the authors say, will take a return to greater centralization of care at academic medical centers such as NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "Centers that offer comprehensive cerebrovascular care with both surgical and endovascular capabilities are best equipped to make treatment decisions based on what's best for the patient," says Dr. Solomon.

The research team compared hospital discharges for unruptured intracranial aneurysms (UIAs) identified via the New York Statewide Database (SPARCS) in two time periods: 2005 to 2007 and 1995 to 2000. They found that since 1995, there has been a six-fold increase in the treatment of UIAs driven almost completely by coiling at smaller community hospitals, while outcomes have remained flat.

Surprisingly, they also found that overall outcomes for traditional surgical clipping worsened. This too can be explained by the proliferation of the minimally invasive approach, say the authors. With most cases being treated with coiling, the cases referred to surgery are increasingly complex. At the same time, there has been less training and practice for cerebrovascular surgeons.

The study's lead author was Dr. Brad E. Zacharia, postdoctoral residency fellow in neurological surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. Additional co-authors are Drs. Neeraj Badjatia, Mitchell F. Berman, Sander Connolly Jr., Andrew F. Ducruet, Bartosz T. Grobelny, Zachary L. Hickman and Stephan A. Mayer.

Brain Aneurisms and Their Treatments

When a blood vessel in the brain weakens and bulges, a condition known as an intracranial aneurysm, there is a risk of the vessel wall breaking and bleeding occurring within the brain -- a hemorrhagic stroke. Approximately 5 percent of the population may have or develop an aneurysm, most often patients between the ages of 35 and 60 and more commonly women. Diagnosis usually occurs during a scan for some other medical problem. The risk of aneurysm rupture is only 1 percent, depending on the location of the aneurysm as well as risk factors including smoking, high blood pressure and family history of aneurysms. Approximately 30 percent of those with ruptured intracranial aneurysms die within 24 hours and an additional 25 to 30 percent die within four weeks.

The traditional treatment for both ruptured and unruptured aneurysms involves surgery to expose the brain and place a tiny metal clip on the abnormal blood vessel. Endoscopic coiling, which has been available since the mid-1990s, involves inserting a catheter into the femoral artery and guiding it to the location of the aneurysm, where it is packed with material, either platinum coils or balloons, to prevent blood flow into the affected area.

Columbia University Medical Center

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The Medical Center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is now among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and state and one of the largest in the United States. For more information, please visit

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is the nation's largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital, with 2,409 beds. The Hospital has nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits in a year, including 12,797 deliveries and 195,294 visits to its emergency departments. NewYork-Presbyterian's 6,144 affiliated physicians and 19,376 staff provide state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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