Purpose: To analyse structural and non-structural modifications of acute stroke care pathways undertaken at healthcare institutions across the regions of Italy due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Methods: Research on National decrees specific for the pandemic was carried out. The stroke pathways of four Italian regions from North to South, such as Lombardy, Veneto, Lazio and Campania, were analysed before and after the pandemic outbreak.
Findings: On 29 February 2020, the Italian Minister of Health issued national guidelines on how to address the COVID-19 emergency. Stroke management was affected and required changes, basically resulting in the need to prioritise the ongoing COVID-19 emergency. In the most affected regions, the closure of departments and hospitals led to a complete reorganisation of previously functioning stroke networks. With the closure of several Stroke Units and Stroke Centres, the transportation time to hospital lengthened significantly, especially for the outlying populations.
Discussion: The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has been spreading rapidly in Italy and placing an overwhelming burden on healthcare systems. In response to this, political and healthcare decision-makers worked together to develop and implement efforts to sustain the national healthcare system while fighting the pandemic. Stroke care pathways changed during the pandemic and different organisational models were applied in the most affected regions.
Conclusions: Stroke treatment pathways will need to be redesigned so to guarantee that severe and acute disease patients do not lose their rights to the access and delivery of care during the COVID-19 pandemics.