A speeding ambulance may not benefit patients

How fast should an ambulance go?

The stereotypical speeding ambulance with 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:

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 US worker.

And, worse, pedestrians or uninvolved motorists can be hurt from ambulance accidents.

Of course, cases like choking, suspected stroke, or a heart attack, is time sensitive. But for the majority of cases, new data is suggesting 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.”


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  • anon

    I really hope that paramedics would be protected from a lawsuit if they choose to drive slower and then have that decision make the difference between life and death for a patient. I can bet you that a study wont hold up in court as a defense.

  • http://www.ambulancedriverfiles.com Ambulance Driver

    There have been a number of studies on lights and siren ambulance response. All of them demonstrate that lights and siren response – patient loaded or not – is inherently more dangerous for the public and the medics, but also saves only 30 seconds or so in an urban environment.

    I can think of few cases, other than choking and cardiac arrest, where arriving 30 seconds sooner would make a difference.

    • Anonymous

      you could think… wich is a lack of evidence, anyway thanks for saving those 30sec for the choking or cardiac arrest patients…

  • http://lockupdoc.com Lockup Doc

    Back before my med school days I worked as an EMT for a rural hospital-based ambulance service and ended up driving on many calls.

    Maybe in an urban area the lights, siren and speeding increase risk more than they help the patient.

    But, in rural areas where ambulances may have to respond to calls 15+ miles away, I think expediting the response time and, when appropriate, getting the patient to the hospital quickly makes more sense. When you’re on a wide-open two lane highway, in good weather, responding to a motor vehicle accident or to someone with severe chest pain and dyspnea, going the speed limit just doesn’t make sense.

  • MikeR

    In 1969 and 1970 I was a medic serving on an ambulance in a metro area. This all predates EMT’s and Paramedic training and certification. I was the best trained medic in the county and that training was Advanced First Aid from the Red Cross. I was also in an accident going around 90 MPH when a driver pulled out into the path of the ambulance. No one was injured but the ambulance was a total loss. Given the current level of training and certification, I feel that crews are better able to stablize patients prior to transport allowing for a safer highway speed for the ambulance. Granted we can’t generalize to all cases but there is a greater threat to the patient and crew when driving at a high rate of speed. Many drivers are totally oblivious to what is taking place around them and with cell phones, air conditioning, loud music they often fail to hear an approaching emergency vehicle vastly increasing the likelihood of an accident. Bottom line, get there quickly but safely.

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