- Patients in rural America can wait up to 30 minutes for emergency medical services (EMS) after dialing 911 — far longer than the average interval of 7 minutes, according to a new study in JAMA Surgery.
- The researchers analyzed 1.7 million EMS runs in the U.S. and found average wait times of 6 minutes in urban and suburban zip codes, compared with 13 minutes in rural ones. But one in 10 calls to 911 in rural areas resulted in waits just shy of 30 minutes.
- The findings point to the need for trained bystanders who can intervene in cases that are time-sensitive like severe allergic reactions, heart attack or severe bleeding, the researchers say.
Bystanders who are trained in CPR and other basic first aid could reduce harm and save lives by assisting patients until an ambulance arrives, according to the study.
“A new public education campaign called ‘Until Help Arrives’ was designed to empower laypersons to provide care to the ill and injured until EMS personnel arrive,” Dr. Howard Mell, one of the study’s authors and a spokesperson for The American College of Emergency Physicians, said in a statement. “This program can be helpful to all communities, particularly those in rural areas where the wait for EMS can be so long.”
The initiative grew out of a collaborative effort between emergency care and emergency management experts within HHS and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Another way to reduce response times is with use of drones. According to a recent Swedish study, drones improved response times in simulated out-of-hospital cardiac arrests by about 16 minutes compared with EMS.
Rural patients face huge obstacles to healthcare. Since 2010, more than 81 rural hospitals have closed and 673 more are vulnerable and could close, according to the National Rural Health Association. Uncertainty over ACA repeal and the future of Medicaid expansion could exacerbate the problem even more.
Writing earlier this month in the Health Affairs Blog, Shao-Chee Sim, vice president for applied research at Episcopal Health Foundation, said the issue isn’t whether hospitals will close but whether rural communities have “systems of health” that support virtual care.
“Telemedicine options demonstrate why the overall question for rural communities facing a hospital closure to ask is not ‘to close or not to close,’ but more importantly, does the health care delivery system before and/or after a possible closure meet the community’s needs,” Sim wrote.