A pilot study of emergency medical technicians' field assessment of intoxicated patients' need for ED care

Am J Emerg Med. 2012 Sep;30(7):1224-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2011.06.004. Epub 2011 Nov 4.


Objective: Alcohol-intoxicated individuals account for a significant proportion of emergency department care and may be eligible for care at alternative sobering facilities. This pilot study sought to examine intermediate-level emergency medical technician (EMT) ability to identify intoxicated individuals who may be eligible for diversion to an alternative sobering facility.

Methods: Intermediate-level EMTs in an urban fire department completed patient assessment surveys for individual intoxicated patients between May and August 2010. Corresponding patient medical records were retrospectively reviewed for diagnosis, disposition, and blood alcohol content. Statistical analysis was conducted to determine correlates of survey response, diagnosis, and disposition; and survey sensitivity and specificity were calculated.

Results: One hundred ninety-seven patient transports and medical records were analyzed. Emergency medical technicians indicated 139 patients (71%) needed hospital-based care, and 155 patients (79%) had a primary ethanol diagnosis. Fourteen patients (7%) were admitted to the hospital, and EMTs identified 93% of admitted patients as requiring hospital-based care. Overall sensitivity and specificity of the survey were 93% (95% confidence interval, 66.1-99.8) and 40% (95% confidence interval, 33.3-47.9), respectively.

Conclusion: Intermediate-level EMTs may be able to play an important role in facilitating triage of intoxicated patients to alternate sobering facilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / therapy*
  • Data Collection
  • Emergency Medical Technicians*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Triage