Services for reducing duration of hospital care in people with acute stroke

Review question

We aimed to establish if Early Supported Discharge (ESD) services can result in a better patient recovery and if they are as acceptable and affordable as usual services.


Services that try to offer stroke patients an earlier discharge from hospital with rehabilitation provided in the community have been termed Early Supported Discharge (ESD) services. ESD services are usually provided by multidisciplinary teams of therapists, nurses, and doctors who work in a co-ordinated manner through regular meetings. They aim to allow patients to return home from hospital earlier than usual and also to receive more rehabilitation in the familiar environment of their own home.

Study characteristics

We identified 17 clinical trials recruiting 2422 stroke patients (searching completed to January 2017). Patients who were recruited tended to have a moderate degree of disability (able to walk with assistance) and be sufficiently well to consider returning home. We categorised services as those based on a multidisciplinary ESD team (with different levels of co-ordination and delivery) and those with no multidisciplinary team co-ordination (no ESD team).

Key results

The length of initial stay in hospital was reduced by approximately five days for the ESD group. At an average of six months after their stroke ESD patients were more likely to be living at home (an extra five patients living at home for every 100 receiving ESD services; moderate-quality evidence). They were also more likely to be independent in daily activities (an extra six patients independent for every 100 receiving ESD services; moderate-quality evidence). We identified no apparent hazards in terms of patient mood or quality of life, carer mood or quality of life, or the risk of readmission to hospital. The greatest reductions in disability seemed to be present in trials based around a co-ordinated ESD team. When compared with usual care, costs of ESD services ranged from a reduction to a modest increase.

Quality of the evidence

The quality of the evidence was downgraded to 'moderate' for the main outcomes of death, discharge home or disability. This was because it was impossible to hide the treating service from participants or healthcare workers. These conclusions were not dependent on trials judged to be lower quality because of poor design or missing data. More information was missing for some of the other outcome measures, which we have downgraded to low-quality evidence.


Appropriately resourced ESD services with co-ordinated multidisciplinary team input can reduce disability and the length of time in hospital at least for a selected group of people with stroke. Results are unclear for services that are not based on a co-ordinated multidisciplinary team input. We did not identify any substantial harmful effects.

Authors' conclusions: 

Appropriately resourced ESD services with co-ordinated multidisciplinary team input provided for a selected group of stroke patients can reduce long-term dependency and admission to institutional care as well as reducing the length of hospital stay. Results are inconclusive for services without co-ordinated multidisciplinary team input. We observed no adverse impact on the mood or subjective health status of patients or carers, nor on readmission to hospital.

Read the full abstract...

People with stroke conventionally receive a substantial part of their rehabilitation in hospital. Services have now been developed that offer people in hospital an early discharge with rehabilitation at home (early supported discharge: ESD).


To establish if, in comparison with conventional care, services that offer people in hospital with stroke a policy of early discharge with rehabilitation provided in the community (ESD) can: 1) accelerate return home, 2) provide equivalent or better patient and carer outcomes, 3) be acceptable satisfactory to patients and carers, and 4) have justifiable resource implications use.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (January 2017), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2017, Issue 1) in the Cochrane Library (searched January 2017), MEDLINE in Ovid (searched January 2017), Embase in Ovid (searched January 2017), CINAHL in EBSCO (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature; 1937 to December 2016), and Web of Science (to January 2017). In an effort to identify further published, unpublished, and ongoing trials we searched six trial registries (March 2017). We also performed citation tracking of included studies, checked reference lists of relevant articles, and contacted trialists.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) recruiting stroke patients in hospital to receive either conventional care or any service intervention that has provided rehabilitation and support in a community setting with an aim of reducing the duration of hospital care.

Data collection and analysis: 

The primary patient outcome was the composite end-point of death or long-term dependency recorded at the end of scheduled follow-up. Two review authors scrutinised trials, categorised them on their eligibility and extracted data. Where possible we sought standardised data from the primary trialists. We analysed the results for all trials and for subgroups of patients and services, in particular whether the intervention was provided by a co-ordinated multidisciplinary team (co-ordinated ESD team) or not. We assessed risk of bias for the included trials and used GRADE to assess the quality of the body of evidence.

Main results: 

We included 17 trials, recruiting 2422 participants, for which outcome data are currently available. Participants tended to be a selected elderly group of stroke survivors with moderate disability. The ESD group showed reductions in the length of hospital stay equivalent to approximately six days (mean difference (MD) -5.5; 95% confidence interval (CI) -3 to -8 days; P < 0.0001; moderate-grade evidence). The primary outcome was available for 16 trials (2359 participants). Overall, the odds ratios (OR) for the outcome of death or dependency at the end of scheduled follow-up (median 6 months; range 3 to 12) was OR 0.80 (95% CI 0.67 to 0.95, P = 0.01, moderate-grade evidence) which equates to five fewer adverse outcomes per 100 patients receiving ESD. The results for death (16 trials; 2116 participants) and death or requiring institutional care (12 trials; 1664 participants) were OR 1.04 (95% CI 0.77 to 1.40, P = 0.81, moderate-grade evidence) and OR 0.75 (95% CI 0.59 to 0.96, P = 0.02, moderate-grade evidence), respectively. Small improvements were also seen in participants' extended activities of daily living scores (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.14, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.25, P = 0.01, low-grade evidence) and satisfaction with services (OR 1.60, 95% CI 1.08 to 2.38, P = 0.02, low-grade evidence). We saw no clear differences in participants' activities of daily living scores, patients subjective health status or mood, or the subjective health status, mood or satisfaction with services of carers. We found low-quality evidence that the risk of readmission to hospital was similar in the ESD and conventional care group (OR 1.09, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.51, P = 0.59, low-grade evidence). The evidence for the apparent benefits were weaker at one- and five-year follow-up. Estimated costs from six individual trials ranged from 23% lower to 15% greater for the ESD group in comparison to usual care.

In a series of pre-planned analyses, the greatest reductions in death or dependency were seen in the trials evaluating a co-ordinated ESD team with a suggestion of poorer results in those services without a co-ordinated team (subgroup interaction at P = 0.06). Stroke patients with mild to moderate disability at baseline showed greater reductions in death or dependency than those with more severe stroke (subgroup interaction at P = 0.04).