BACKGROUND: Many hospitals lack the infrastructure required to treat patients with acute stroke. The Brain Attack Coalition (BAC) published guidelines for the establishment of primary stroke centers. OBJECTIVE: To determine if stroke center designation and selective triage of acute stroke patients improve quality of care. METHODS: Baseline chart abstraction was performed on all stroke patients admitted to 32 hospitals serving Brooklyn and Queens, NY, from March to May 2002. Hospitals were invited to meet BAC guideline-based criteria. Adherence was verified by on-site visits. After designation, acute stroke patients were selectively triaged. Remeasurement data were collected from August to October 2003. RESULTS: The authors abstracted 1,598 charts at baseline and 1,442 charts at remeasurement. From baseline to remeasurement, median times decreased for door to physician contact (25 vs 15 minutes, p = 0.001), CT performance for potential tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) candidates (68 vs 32 minutes, p < 0.001), and t-PA administration (109 vs 98 minutes (p = NS). IV t-PA utilization increased from 2.4 to 5.2% (p < 0.005), select t-PA protocol violations decreased from 11.1 to 7.9% (p = NS), and the stroke unit admission rate increased from 16 to 39% (p < 0.001). In stroke centers (n = 14) vs nondesignated hospitals (n = 18), there were shorter median times from door to physician contact (10 vs 25 minutes, p < 0.001), CT performance for potential t-PA candidates (31 vs 40 minutes, p = NS), and t-PA administration (95 vs 115 minutes, p < 0.05). Stroke centers, compared with nondesignated centers, admitted acute stroke patients to stroke units more often (55.9 vs 10.9%, p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Stroke center designation and selective triage of acute stroke patients improved the quality of care, including access to timely thrombolytic therapy and stroke units. Copyright © 2006 by AAN Enterprises, Inc.