Background: The scientific evidence of a beneficial effect of physicians in prehospital treatment is scarce. The objective of this systematic review of controlled studies was to examine whether physicians, as opposed to paramedical personnel, increase patient survival in prehospital treatment and if so, to identify the patient groups that gain benefit.
Methods: A systematic review of studies published in the databases PubMed, EMBASE and Cochrane from January 1, 1990 to November 24, 2008. Controlled studies comparing patient survival with prehospital physician treatment vs. treatment by paramedical personnel in trauma patients or patients with any acute illness were included.
Results: We identified 1.359 studies of which 26 met our inclusion criteria. In nine of 19 studies including between 25 and 14.702 trauma patients in the intervention group, physician treatment increased survival compared to paramedical treatment. In four of five studies including between nine and 85 patients with out of hospital cardiac arrest, physician treatment increased survival. Only two studies including 211 and 2.869 patients examined unselected, broader patient groups. Overall, they demonstrated no survival difference between physician and paramedical treatment but one found increased survival with physician treatment in subgroups of patients with acute myocardial infarction and respiratory diseases.
Conclusion: Our systematic review revealed only few controlled studies of variable quality and strength examining survival with prehospital physician treatment. Increased survival with physician treatment was found in trauma and, based on more limited evidence, cardiac arrest. Indications of increased survival were found in respiratory diseases and acute myocardial infarction. Many conditions seen in the prehospital setting remain unexamined.