Minutes Are Huge

Calling 911 in rural areas leads to faster heart attack care

Arriving at the hospital by ambulance speeds up life-saving treatment for heart attack patients in rural areas and confirms the important role paramedics have in expediting care, according to new research published in the AHA Journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Researchers reviewed data on 774 patients treated for a type of heart attack called ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) who lived in rural Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Just over half of the STEMI patients arrived in their own vehicles instead of calling 911 or their local emergency medical services.

All patients in the study received percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) treatment to restore blood flow. PCI, also referred to as angioplasty, is a common procedure performed to open blocked arteries. Frequently, a tiny metal mesh tube called a stent is used to help keep the artery open.

When comparing arrival times, researchers found:

  • Patients brought to the hospital by ambulance took an average of about 26 minutes to get there compared with an average of 38 minutes for patients who drove themselves.
  • The average time from hospital arrival to undergoing artery-opening procedures in the cardiac catheterization lab was an average of 42 minutes for those who traveled by ambulance versus 57 minutes for those who drove themselves.

"The biggest implication is raising awareness so the public understands the vital role of EMS in healthcare," said lead study author John M. Gallagher, M.D., EMS Medical Director, Winona Area Ambulance Service in Winona, Minnesota. "EMS continues to be viewed as only a ‘ride’ but utilizing EMS as part of the healthcare system not only allows for treatment from the time they arrive at your door, but also has been proven to shorten time to reperfusion treatment."

"The public needs to start seeing EMS as the first access point to health care," he said. "EMS providers have a plan in place for inclement weather and travel conditions. Their unique capabilities to deliver lifesaving care en-route to the hospital should not be underestimated. The benefits of 20 minutes saved in their heart attack timeline are huge."

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