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Do Speeding Ambulances Save More Lives?

How fast should an ambulance go? The stereotypical speeding ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring is the image that most conjure up. But recent data suggests that transport speed may be overstated.

In a fascinating piece from Slate, emergency physicians Zachary F. Meisel and Jesse M. Pines examine that very question. They cite a recent study from the Annals of Emergency Medicine, which concluded that a fast transport speed didn’t necessarily save lives.

From the study:

The authors studied more than 3,000 trauma patients—those with low blood pressures from bleeding, head injuries, and difficulty breathing—and looked at various time intervals after a 9-1-1 call. The times were compared with outcomes for the patients in the hospital. The result: shorter intervals did not appear to improve survival.

A speeding ambulance is dangerous. Ambulance crashes are not uncommon, with medics being killed at a rate three times higher than the average U.S. worker. And worse, pedestrians or uninvolved motorists can be hurt from ambulance accidents.

Of course cases like choking, suspected stroke, or a heart attack are time sensitive. But for the majority of cases, new data suggests that the speeding ambulance may not be in everyone’s best interest.

Medics are currently benchmarked for time, which encourages speeding. But as the authors conclude, “we … don’t want ambulance drivers putting themselves, their patients, and other citizens at risk, especially when minutes don’t count as much as we once thought.”

Indeed.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*


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