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Geisinger neurosurgeon lead author of study published in Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery

DANVILLE, Pa. – Fewer people are seeking medical care for symptoms of stroke, and those who do are waiting longer to seek care during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the same period in 2019.

The findings, published this week in the Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery, are based on data from 12 stroke centers across the United States, captured during February and March of 2019 and 2020. 

Clemens Schirmer, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of Geisinger’s neurosurgery department, was the study’s lead author. 

“Every minute treatment is delayed correlates either to the severity of the outcome for the patient or the socioeconomic effects as the patient recovers,” said Dr. Schirmer. “The goal of stroke care is to get the patient back to being fully functional, which is why we educate about getting care quickly and symptom recognition.”

The study showed a decrease in the number of stroke patients month over month between February and March of this year as the pandemic swept across the U.S. Patients who did seek emergency care for stroke waited significantly longer in 2020 than in 2019, in some cases waiting more than twice as long as patients in the 2019 group to visit an emergency room.

There was no difference in age or severity of symptoms between the baseline 2019 group and the 2020 data.

A person suffering a stroke loses 2 million brain cells every minute, so timely treatment is necessary for a successful outcome. Patients should not delay stroke care because of concerns about COVID-19, Dr. Schirmer said.

“When you or a loved one are experiencing stroke symptoms, timely treatment is crucial for a successful recovery,” he said. “Hospitals are taking every precaution to keep patients safe and protect everyone from the spread of COVID-19, so don’t let concerns about the virus keep you from seeking this necessary emergency care.”

To help recognize the signs of a stroke, people should remember to BE FAST:

  • Balance: Does the person show signs of sudden loss of balance?
  • Eyes: Are they experiencing sudden vision trouble like blurred, double or loss of vision?
  • Face: Does the person’s face look uneven when asked to smile?
  • Arms: Is there weakness in one or both arms?
  • Speech: Does the person have trouble speaking or seem confused?
  • Time: Call 9-1-1 if you notice any of these signs of symptoms.

Geisinger’s nationally recognized Acute Stroke Program includes 24/7 stroke care at all of our hospitals, two Comprehensive Stroke Centers designated by the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville and Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, three Primary Stroke Center hospitals and research-proven care that helps stroke victims recover with fewer disabilities.

For more information about stroke symptoms and care, visit

About Geisinger
Geisinger is committed to making better health easier for the more than 1 million people it serves. Founded more than 100 years ago by Abigail Geisinger, the system now includes 10 hospital campuses, a health plan with more than half a million members, a research institute and the Geisinger College of Health Sciences, which includes schools of medicine, nursing and graduate education. With more than 25,000 employees and 1,700+ employed physicians, Geisinger boosts its hometown economies in Pennsylvania by billions of dollars annually. Learn more at or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dr. Clemens Schirmer
Dr. Clemens Schirmer

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