Context: Ambulance diversion, a practice in which emergency departments (EDs) are temporarily closed to ambulance traffic, might be problematic for patients experiencing time-sensitive conditions, such as acute myocardial infarction (AMI). However, there is little empirical evidence to show whether diversion is associated with worse patient outcomes.
Objective: To analyze whether temporary ED closure on the day a patient experiences AMI, as measured by ambulance diversion hours of the nearest ED, is associated with increased mortality rates among patients with AMI. DESIGN, STUDY, AND PARTICIPANTS: A case-crossover design of 13,860 Medicare patients with AMI from 508 zip codes within 4 California counties (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara) whose admission date was between 2000 and 2005. Data included 100% Medicare claims data that covered admissions between 2000 and 2005, linked with date of death until 2006, and daily ambulance diversion logs from the same 4 counties. Among the hospital universe, 149 EDs were identified as the nearest ED to these patients.
Main outcome measures: The percentage of patients with AMI who died within 7 days, 30 days, 90 days, 9 months, and 1 year from admission (when their nearest ED was not on diversion and when that same ED was exposed to <6, 6 to <12, and ≥12 hours of diversion out of 24 hours on the day of admission).
Results: Between 2000 and 2006, the mean (SD) daily diversion duration was 7.9 (6.1) hours. Based on analysis of 11,625 patients admitted to the ED between 2000 and 2005, and whose nearest ED had at least 3 diversion exposure levels (3541, 3357, 2667, and 2060 patients for no exposure, exposure to <6, 6 to <12, and ≥12 hours of diversion, respectively), there were no statistically significant differences in mortality rates between no diversion and exposure to less than 12 hours of diversion. Exposure to 12 or more hours of diversion was associated with higher 30-day mortality vs no diversion status (unadjusted mortality rate, 392 patients [19%] vs 545 patients [15%]; regression adjusted difference, 3.24 percentage points; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.60-5.88); higher 90-day mortality (537 patients [26%] vs 762 patients [22%]; 2.89 percentage points; 95% CI, 0.13-5.64); higher 9-month mortality (680 patients [33%] vs 980 patients [28%]; 2.93 percentage points; 95% CI, 0.15-5.71); and higher 1-year mortality (731 patients [35%] vs 1034 patients [29%]; 3.04 percentage points; 95% CI, 0.33-5.75).
Conclusion: Among Medicare patients with AMI in 4 populous California counties, exposure to at least 12 hours of diversion by the nearest ED was associated with increased 30-day, 90-day, 9-month, and 1-year mortality.