Objective: To analyze the potential for expanding the scope of practice of paramedics from public health, health planning, and health policy perspectives, utilizing data covering more than 42,000 emergency patients.
Methods: The authors conducted a retrospective study of 42,918 patients seen in two Baltimore emergency departments over a six-month period, 5,259 of whom were transported by emergency ambulance. The authors constructed epidemiologic profiles of in-hospital and prehospital patients, and merged ambulance data with discharge diagnoses.
Results: The 42,918 patients had a total of 2,118 different discharge diagnoses. The ten most frequent diagnoses of ambulance-transported patients were convulsions, injuries, asthma, congestive heart failure, chest pain, syncope and collapse, otitis media, abdominal pain, cardiac arrest, and respiratory abnormality. The ten most frequent diagnoses for all ED patients were otitis media, asthma, finger and nonspecific injuries, upper respiratory infections, chest pain, bronchitis, pharyngitis, gastroenteritis, nonspecific viral infections, and urinary tract infections. Infections accounted for 31.6% of the top 50% of diagnoses by volume, followed by injuries (24%) and cardiovascular cases (16.5%). However, 26.9% of ED patients received an assessment and diagnosis of general symptoms (no procedure).
Conclusions: The high number of diagnoses and the frequency of infections as a primary complaint in this patient sample reconfirm the primacy of the physician in prioritizing patients and assigning treatment pathways. The authors suggest a methodology that may allow properly trained medics to alter some of their role as physician extenders, but suggest that system planners must first ensure that any changes not reduce the public health benefits that each EMS system already provides.