Rural patients face long waits for paramedics to arrive

One in 10 rural patients waited half an hour for emergency personnel to arrive, a new study found.

Patients in rural areas face long waits for paramedics to arrive, according to a new study.

Researchers reviewed data on more than 1.7 million emergency medical services runs from 485 agencies in 2015 and found that 1 in 10 rural patients waited half an hour for emergency personnel to arrive. The average wait in urban and suburban areas was 6 minutes, while the average was 13 minutes in rural areas. The findings were published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery.

The average wait time overall was 7 minutes, according to the study. The findings underscore the importance of training more people in CPR and other potentially life-saving techniques. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) has launched a campaign called “Until Help Arrives” that aims to empower people to provide care to the ill or injured while they wait for emergency responders to arrive.

"Those 7 minutes—or even longer in rural areas—are ripe for bystander intervention, especially for bystanders trained in first aid and/or CPR," Howard Mell, M.D., a spokesperson for ACEP and one of the study’s authors, said in an announcement.

Patients in rural areas face a number of healthcare challenges outside of trauma and emergency care, but a 2016 study found that just 29% of rural patients treated by EMS personnel are taken directly to a major trauma center, whereas 79% of patients in urban areas are taken to Level 1 or Level 2 facilities.

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In addition to patients in more remote locations having limited access to care options, many rural providers are cash-strapped and at risk of closing, which could leave some people in “medical deserts” where they have no care options nearby at all.

Emergency crews in these regions are also being asked to do more with less, and a number perform procedures in patient homes, like starting intravenous antibiotics or intubating patients, based on the distances they have to travel.