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The appropriateness of emergency medical service responses in the eThekwini district of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

PR Newton
R Naidoo
P Brysiewicz


Introduction. Emergency medical services (EMS) are sometimes required to respond to cases that are later found not to be emergencies, resulting in high levels of inappropriate responses. This study evaluated the extent to which this occurs.
Methods. All cases dispatched over 72 hours by the eThekwini EMS in Durban, South Africa, were prospectively enrolled in a quantitative descriptive study. Vehicle control forms containing dispatch data were matched and compared with patient report forms containing epidemiological and clinical data to describe the nature and extent of inappropriate responses based on patient need. Data were subjected to simple descriptive analysis, correlations and χ2 testing.
Results. A total of 1 385 cases met the study inclusion criteria. Marked variations existed between dispatch and on-scene priority settings, most notably in the highest priority ‘red-code’ category, which constituted >56% of cases dispatched yet accounted for <2% at the scene (p<0.001). Conversely, >80% of ‘red-code’ dispatches required a lower priority response. When comparing resource allocation according to patient interventional needs, >58% of cases required either no intervention or transport only and almost 36% required basic life support intervention only (p<0.001). Moreover, <12% of advanced life support dispatches were for patients found to be ‘red code’ at the scene.
Conclusion. There is a significant mismatch between the dispatch of EMS resources and actual patient need in the eThekwini district, with significantly high levels of inappropriate emergency responses.