Does the level of prehospital care influence the outcome of patients with altered levels of consciousness?

Prehosp Disaster Med. 1996 Apr-Jun;11(2):101-4. doi: 10.1017/s1049023x00042722.


Hypothesis: Significant differences exist in the outcome of patients with altered level of consciousness (ALOC) cared for by advanced life support (ALS) compared with basic life support (BLS) prehospital providers.

Methods: Patients transported by ambulance to a community teaching hospital during an 11-month period were studied retrospectively. Study patients were those considered not alert by prehospital personnel. Exclusion criteria included; trauma, intoxication, drowning, shock, and cardiac arrest. Data were abstracted from the ambulance reports and hospital records.

Results: Two hundred three patients with an ALOC were identified; 113 were transported by ALS providers (56%) and 90 (44%) by BLS providers. Prehospital levels of consciousness, according to the "alert, verbal, painful, unresponsive" scale (ALS vs BLS) were: "verbal" (40% vs 51%), "painful" (23% vs 23%), and "unresponsive" (37% vs 25%). The mean value for some time was 15 +/- 6 minutes for ALS versus 10 +/- 4 minutes for BLS (p < 0.001). On arrival in the emergency department, the LOC of 72 (64%) ALS patients and 58 (64%) BLS patients had improved to "alert." The level of consciousness in one ALS patient worsened. Fifty-two ALS (46%) and 38 (42%) BLS patients were admitted. Principal final diagnoses were seizure (27% ALS vs 38% BLS), hypoglycemia (23% ALS vs 23% BLS), and stroke (22% ALS vs 20% BLS). Remaining diagnoses each constituted less than 7% of total discharge diagnoses. No statistically significant differences in measures of outcome were noted between ALS or BLS patients. Diagnoses of seizure, stroke, and hypoglycemia were studied individually. No differences in admission rate, mortality rate, or disposition were identified. Hypoglycemic patients conveyed by ALS providers had significantly shorter emergency department treatment times than did those transported by BLS providers (160 +/- 62 minutes ALS vs 229 +/- 67 minutes BLS [p < 0.005]).

Conclusion: Advanced life support levels of care of patients with an ALOC does not significantly change outcome compared with those receiving BLS care with the exception of shorter emergency department treatment times for hypoglycemic patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cognition Disorders / classification
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / therapy*
  • Emergency Medical Services / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care / standards*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Transportation of Patients