Prehospital Care and Emergency Department Door-to-Antibiotic Time in Sepsis

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2018 Dec;15(12):1443-1450. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201803-199OC.


Rationale: Early antibiotics improve outcomes for patients with sepsis. Factors influencing antibiotic timing in emergency department (ED) sepsis remain unclear.

Objectives: Determine the relationship between prehospital level of care of patients with sepsis and ED door-to-antibiotic time.

Methods: This retrospective cohort study comprised patients admitted from the community to an academic ED June 2009 to February 2015 with fluid-refractory sepsis or septic shock. Transfer patients and those whose antibiotics began before ED arrival or after ED discharge were excluded. We used multivariable regression to evaluate the association between the time from ED arrival to antibiotic initiation and prehospital level of care, defined as the highest level of emergency medical services received: none, basic life support (BLS) ambulance, or advanced life support (ALS) ambulance. We measured variation in this association when hypotension was or was not present by ED arrival.

Results: Among 361 community-dwelling patients with sepsis, the level of prehospital care correlated with illness severity. ALS-treated patients received antibiotics faster than patients who did not receive prehospital care (median, 103 [interquartile range, 75 to 135] vs. 144 [98 to 251] minutes, respectively) or BLS-only patients (168 [100-250] minutes; P < 0.001 for each pairwise comparison with ALS). This pattern persisted after multivariable adjustment, where ALS care (-43 min; 95% confidence interval [CI], -84 to -2; P = 0.033) but not BLS-only care (-4 min; 95% CI, -41 to +34; P = 0.97) was associated with less antibiotic delay compared with no prehospital care. ALS-treated patients more frequently received antibiotics within 3 hours of ED arrival (91%) compared with walk-in patients (62%; adjusted odds ratio, 3.11; 95% CI, 1.20 to 8.03; P = 0.015) or BLS-treated patients (56%; adjusted odds ratio, 4.51; 95% CI, 1.89 to 11.35; P < 0.001). ALS-treated patients started antibiotics faster than walk-in patients in the absence of hypotension by ED arrival (-41 min; 95% CI, -110 to -13; P = 0.009) but not when hypotension was present (+25 min; 95% CI, -43 to +92; P = 0.66).

Conclusions: Prehospital ALS but not BLS-only care was associated with faster antibiotic initiation for patients with sepsis without hypotension. Process redesign for non-ALS patients may improve antibiotic timeliness for ED sepsis.

Keywords: ambulance care; emergency medical services; emergency medicine; sepsis; septic shock.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis / drug therapy*
  • Time-to-Treatment*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents