Rural Patients Wait Longest for EMS

Rural Patients Wait Longest for EMS

WASHINGTON, DC – The average interval between a call to 911 and arrival on the scene of emergency medical services is seven minutes in the United States, but patients in rural areas wait as long as 30 minutes for help to arrive. How long is too long to wait for medical attention?

The results of a study of EMS records from 2015 were published recently in JAMA Surgery (“Emergency Medical Service Response Times in Rural, Suburban and Urban Areas”) and revealed that patients wait seven minutes for an ambulance on average, but much longer in rural areas.

“Those seven minutes – or even longer in rural areas – are ripe for bystander intervention, especially for bystanders trained in first aid and/or CPR,” said one of the study’s authors, Howard Mell, MD, FACEP, a spokesperson for The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

The study, which analyzed 1.7 million EMS runs in the US, concluded that average wait time for EMS to arrive in suburban and urban areas was 6 minutes, while the average wait time in rural areas was more than double that, at 13 minutes. Nearly one in 10 911 calls in rural zip codes resulted in waits of nearly 30 minutes. The authors point out that in cases of severe bleeding, life-threating allergic reactions, cardiopulmonary arrest, or other time sensitive illnesses or injuries, bystanders need to be ready to help while waiting for the ambulance.

“A new public education campaign called ‘Until Help Arrives’ was designed to empower lay persons to provide care to the ill and injured until EMS personnel arrive,” said Dr. Mell. “This program can be helpful to all communities, particularly those in rural areas where the wait for EMS can be so long. Recognizing that you are the help until help arrives may be lifesaving.”

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