Sensitivity and specificity of the medical priority dispatch system in detecting cardiac arrest emergency calls in Melbourne

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2006 Mar-Apr;21(2):72-6. doi: 10.1017/s1049023x00003381.


Introduction: In Australia, cardiac arrest kills 142 out of every 100,000 people each year; with only 3-4% of out-of-hospital patients with cardiac arrest in Melbourne surviving to hospital discharge. Prompt initiation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), defibrillation, and advanced cardiac care greatly improves the chances of survival from cardiac arrest. A critical step in survival is identifying by the emergency ambulance dispatcher potential of the probability that the person is in cardiac arrest. The Melbourne Metropolitan Ambulance Service (MAS) uses the computerized call-taking system, Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS), to triage incoming, emergency, requests for ambulance responses. The MPDS is used in many emergency medical systems around the world, however, there is little published evidence of the system's efficacy.

Objective: This study attempts to undertake a sensitivity/specificity analysis to determine the ability of MPDS to detect cardiac arrest.

Methods: Emergency ambulance dispatch records of all cases identified as suspected cardiac arrest by MPDS were matched with ambulance, patient-care records and records from the Victorian Ambulance Cardiac Arrest Registry to determine the number of correctly identified cardiac arrests. Additionally, cases that had cardiac arrests, but were not identified correctly at the point of call-taking, were examined. All data were collected retrospectively for a three-month period (01 January through 31 March 2003).

Results: The sensitivity of MPDS in detecting cardiac arrest was 76.7% (95% confidence interval (CI): 73.6%-79.8%) and specificity was 99.2% (95% CI: 99.1-99.3%). These results indicate that cardiac arrests are correctly identified in 76.7% of cases.

Conclusion: Although the system correctly identified 76.7% of cardiac arrest cases, the number of false negatives suggests that there is room for improvement in recognition by MPDS to maximize chances for survival in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. This study provides an objective and comprehensive measurement of the accuracy of MPDS cardiac-arrest detection in Melbourne, as well as providing a baseline for comparison with subsequent changes to the MPDS.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Efficiency, Organizational*
  • Emergency Medical Service Communication Systems*
  • Emergency Medical Services / organization & administration*
  • Heart Arrest*
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Triage / standards*
  • Victoria