Objectives: To determine the extent of inappropriate ambulance use from the perspectives of both emergency medical services (EMS) providers and patients utilizing EMS transport, assess level of agreement, and identify variables associated with inappropriate ambulance use.
Methods: A prospective cross-sectional study was done of a consecutive sample of patients arriving by ambulance during the month of February 1997 at an urban university hospital ED. EMS providers and patients completed a survey with questions regarding their perceptions of whether the need for ambulance transport was an emergency or a nonemergency. Patient demographic information and availability of alternate means of transportation to the hospital were also evaluated.
Results: Eight hundred eighty-seven patients were included in the study. EMS providers thought that 501 patient transports were appropriate and represented true emergencies, whereas 689 patients believed their medical problems were true emergencies. A significant number of patients (n=415, 47%) had access to alternative transportation to the hospital. Blunt traumatic injury and altered mental status were the most common reasons for EMS transport. Patient characteristics significantly associated with EMS provider perception of a true emergency were male gender, age >51 years, higher education, chest pain/cardiac complaints, shortness of breath/respiratory complaints, and Medicare insurance. Characteristics significantly associated with patients who perceived themselves to have true emergencies were black ethnicity, higher education, shortness of breath/respiratory complaints, and Medicare insurance. There was 75% agreement between EMS providers and patients on appropriateness of ambulance transport (kappa=0.84).
Conclusion: Inappropriate ambulance use is a significant problem from both EMS provider and patient perspectives. Certain patient characteristics are associated with a higher probability of appropriate and inappropriate uses of EMS transport. A large number of patients transported by ambulance have alternative means of transportation but elect not to use them.