NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Emergency Medical Treatment is Inconsistent

July 28, 2003

Emergency medical systems in most of the nation's 50 largest cities are fragmented, inconsistent and slow, according to a USA TODAY investigation.

Sharp differences in survival rates surfaced in the 18-month investigation, which included a survey of city medical directors, analyses of dispatch and response data; interviews with fire and ambulance crews and on-site visits and ride-alongs with "first responders."

Among the findings:

  • People die needlessly because some cities fail to make basic, often inexpensive changes in the way they deploy ambulances, paramedics and fire trucks.
  • In other cities, where the changes have been made, people in virtually identical circumstances are saved.
  • For years, the conventional wisdom was that help must come within 10 minutes.
  • But new findings from the Mayo Clinic show that lives actually are saved or lost within six minutes.
  • The chance of surviving a dire medical emergency in the USA is a matter of geography.
  • If you collapse from cardiac arrest in Seattle, a 911 call likely will bring instant advice and fast-moving firefighters and paramedics.
  • Collapse in Washington, D.C., and -- as one EMS official suggests -- someone better call a cab for you.

Source: Robert Davis, "Many lives are lost across USA because emergency services fail," USA TODAY, July 28, 2003.

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