Study Finds Ambulance Response Times Are 10 Percent Slower In Poor Communities

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After examining a national registry of emergency medical service (EMS) calls, a team of doctors from the University of California San Francisco have found that ambulances take almost four minutes longer to respond to cardiac arrest cases in lower income neighborhoods than they do in high-income neighborhoods.

"When it comes to a cardiac arrest, every minute counts," study leader Dr Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine at UCSF and an emergency physician at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, said in a statement. Past research has shown that for every minute that passes without CPR or defibrillation, people experiencing cardiac arrest – when the heart stops pumping – have a 7 to 10 percent lower chance of survival. Overall, less than 10 percent of individuals who suffer such an event outside a hospital survive.   

"Our findings show that health care disparities exist at the system-level, including ambulance transport times," she said. "As hospital closures and the cost of health care continue to rise, we must examine how to ensure access to care for our most vulnerable."

Dr Hsia and her colleagues chose to focus on ambulance response times after past studies showed that barriers to prehospital care have a large impact on medical access as a whole. And the investigation is particularly timely given that many privately owned EMS companies have gone out of business in recent years, leaving the public with fewer operating ambulances. The authors speculated that this might disproportionately affect residents of low-income communities, who are known to rely more heavily on prehospital care and have a higher incidence of life-threatening illnesses.

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