Heart attack: Calling 911 can improve time to treatment

Oct. 14, 2014—If you thought you were having a heart attack, would you call 911 for help? Or would you find some other way to get to the hospital?

You should call 911. You’re likely to initiate faster treatment by having an ambulance called to the scene than if you were to wait until arriving at the emergency room by other means.

That wisdom has been reaffirmed by a study published in the journal Cardiovascular Revascularization Medicine. It found that how you get to the hospital during a heart attack could determine how quickly can begin to receive life-saving treatment.

Differences measured in hours

Researchers reviewed the emergency department records at a Washington, District of Columbia, hospital from 2007 through 2012. They looked at those who came to the emergency department because of a heart attack—specifically, a severe heart attack caused by a fully blocked heart artery. The study involved 309 people total.

Of those, 83 arrived by ambulance and 226 came by self-transport, including driving themselves, being brought in by a friend or relative, or arriving by taxi or public transportation.

The researchers looked at how much time elapsed for each patient from the start of symptoms until artery-opening treatment. They further broke down symptom-to-treatment time into five midpoints—for example, the time from having symptoms to arriving at the emergency department and the time spent in being assessed (triaged) at the hospital.

The researchers then compared the timelines of ambulance riders to self-transporters.

Some of the most significant findings:

  • Symptoms to arrival. It took nearly twice as long for self-transporters to arrive at the hospital than for ambulance riders.
  • Time in emergency department. Self-transporters spent twice as much time in triage as ambulance riders.
  • Arrival to treatment. While more than 80 percent of ambulance riders received treatment within the recommended time of less than 90 minutes, only approximately 54 percent of self-transporters were treated within the recommended time.

You can read the full study here.

Why calling 911 makes such a difference

The hospital didn’t give special treatment to people who arrived by ambulance. Both ambulance riders and self-transporters had to be processed through the emergency department. Once patients made it through triage, the timelines for the two groups became similar.

But the people who called 911 arrived with a number of advantages:

  • The ambulance’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs) immediately provided aid that continued until they arrived at the hospital.
  • The EMTs called the hospital in advance, allowing staff to prepare for a patient having a heart attack.
  • Triage was shortened because the EMTs had already supplied much of the information needed.


The take-home message
Call 911 if you suspect a heart attack. You can learn about the symptoms using this infographic.

A heart attack isn’t a static event. The damage to your heart worsens with each passing minute. The quicker you get help, the better your chances of survival.


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