911 and Heart Attacks

Memorial is implementing a new initiative to encourage people to call 9-1-1 when they think they are having a heart attack or stroke.

The statistics:

  • So far in 2013, only 35 percent of patients suffering a heart attack were brought to Memorial by ambulance. Two-thirds came by private vehicle.
  • Compared to other Washington counties, we are on the low side. In parts of Pierce County, 80 percent of heart attack victims travel to the hospital by ambulance.

Why is it so important?

When you’re having a heart attack or stroke, blood circulation to the heart or brain has been cut off. Cells are not getting enough oxygen. The longer it takes to restore blood flow, the more damage is done.

  • In the heart, that means decreased heart muscle and possibly death.
  • In the case of a stroke, it could mean paralysis or an inability to speak, depending on the part of the brain that was damaged.

In September, the average response time in Yakima – from the time of the 9-1-1- call to the time EMS arrived at a patient’s door – was 3.5 minutes. Ambulance crews do more than just pick you up and deliver you to the hospital. They start providing care the moment they arrive:

  • They assess and diagnose the patient
  • They can start to administer medications and start an IV
  • In heart attacks, they could begin a hypothermia protocol to cool down the body and try to preserve heart function.

They also notify the hospital staff. If it’s the middle of the night, that means the heart team has already been notified and is already en route to the hospital to meet you there.

The timely services for heart attack and stroke are unsurpassed by any other hospital in the area.  Memorial is categorized as a Level 1 cardiac center and Level 2 stroke center by the Washington State Dept. of Health, the top categories in our region.

On average, data shows that calling 9-1-1 gives a 20-minute head start to the administration of treatment than if a patient arrives by private vehicle. In addition, there is the risk the patient could lose consciousness while driving him or herself or while being driven by a family member or friend, who would be unable to help them.

So why wouldn’t someone call 9-1-1?

Some people aren’t sure they’re having a heart attack or stroke. They don’t want to make a big deal about it. They don’t want to be viewed as weak, or they fear ridicule if it turns out to be less serious.

Some worry about the financial cost of the ambulance ride. Most insurance policies cover emergency treatment, but there is no guarantee. Out-of-pocket expenses vary greatly among insurance carriers. But the costs that can arise from medical complications from delaying treatment can be far higher, as can the cost of having a worse outcome.

Calling 9-1-1 can be the difference between surviving and dying. It also can be the difference between fully recovering and suffering long-term adverse effects.

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