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Dispatch Categories as Indicators of Out-of-Hospital Time Critical Interventions and Associated Emergency Department Outcomes.

OBJECTIVES: Emergency medical services (EMS) systems increasingly grapple with rising call volumes and workforce shortages, forcing systems to decide which responses may be delayed. Limited research has linked dispatch codes, on-scene findings, and emergency department (ED) outcomes. This study evaluated the association between dispatch categorizations and time-critical EMS responses defined by prehospital interventions and ED outcomes. Secondarily, we proposed a framework for identifying dispatch categorizations that are safe or unsafe to hold in queue.

METHODS: This retrospective, multi-center analysis encompassed all 9-1-1 responses from 8 accredited EMS systems between 1/1/2021 and 06/30/2023, utilizing the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS). Independent variables included MPDS Protocol numbers and Determinant levels. EMS treatments and ED diagnoses/dispositions were categorized as time-critical using a multi-round consensus survey. The primary outcome was the proportion of EMS responses categorized as time-critical. A non-parametric test for trend was used to assess the proportion of time-critical responses Determinant levels. Based on group consensus, Protocol/Determinant level combinations with at least 120 responses (∼1 per week) were further categorized as safe to hold in queue (<1% time-critical intervention by EMS and <5% time-critical ED outcome) or unsafe to hold in queue (>10% time-critical intervention by EMS or >10% time-critical ED outcome).

RESULTS: Of 1,715,612 EMS incidents, 6% (109,250) involved a time-critical EMS intervention. Among EMS transports with linked outcome data (543,883), 12% had time-critical ED outcomes. The proportion of time-critical EMS interventions increased with Determinant level (OMEGA: 1%, ECHO: 38%, p-trend < 0.01) as did time-critical ED outcomes (OMEGA: 3%, ECHO: 31%, p-trend < 0.01). Of 162 unique Protocols/Determinants with at least 120 uses, 30 met criteria for safe to hold in queue, accounting for 8% (142,067) of incidents. Meanwhile, 72 Protocols/Determinants met criteria for unsafe to hold, accounting for 52% (883,683) of incidents. Seven of 32 ALPHA level Protocols and 3/17 OMEGA level Protocols met the proposed criteria for unsafe to hold in queue.

CONCLUSIONS: In general, Determinant levels aligned with time-critical responses; however, a notable minority of lower acuity Determinant level Protocols met criteria for unsafe to hold. This suggests a more nuanced approach to dispatch prioritization, considering both Protocol and Determinant level factors.

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