Background The development of specialized stroke units has been a landmark innovation in acute stroke care. However, the high scientific evidence level for the recommendation for stroke units to provide clinical attention for acute stroke patients does not correspond to the level of stroke unit implementation. A narrative, nonsystematic review on published studies on stroke units was conducted, with special emphasis on those demonstrating their efficacy and effectiveness. We also attempt to provide some answers to several open questions regarding practical issues of stroke units.
Summary of review Stroke units represent the most efficacious model for care provision compared with general ward care and stroke teams. Every stroke patient can benefit from stroke unit care. These units are efficient, cost-effective and their benefits are consistent over time. Compared with other specific stroke therapies such as aspirin or intravenous thrombolytic agents, stroke units have a higher target population and higher benefit in terms of number of deaths and/or dependencies avoided. New approaches in stroke unit management such as the implementation of noninvasive monitoring or alternative clinical pathways could improve their benefit even further.
Conclusion Stroke units are cost-effective and need to be considered as a priority in health-care provision for stroke patients.