Published: 15 April 2014

Simple ambulance test saves lives after heart attack

Surrey study reveals positive link between the survival of heart attack patients and the use of an electrocardiogram (ECG) by ambulance crews.

New research led by academics at the University of Surrey could help save lives by highlighting the importance of carrying out an ECG – a simple test that records the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart – on suspected heart attack patients before they reach hospital. ECG results enable paramedics to give the most appropriate care and can help hospital staff prepare for when a patient arrives for treatment.

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, saw researchers analyse data from almost half a million adults admitted with a heart attack to hospitals in England and Wales, and record whether patients who came to hospital by ambulance had had an ECG test or not.

The results, published in the journal Heart, showed that the number of patients who died within 30 days of hospital admission was significantly lower when an ECG test had been carried out by ambulance crews.

The study also revealed that a third of patients admitted to hospital with a heart attack are not having the test in the ambulance, with certain groups of patients, including women, the elderly and people from black and minority ethnic groups, less likely to have an ECG. 

Study lead Professor Tom Quinn, Associate Dean, Health and Medical Strategy, said, "Every NHS ambulance is equipped with an ECG machine. While there is evidence from other countries that having an ECG test in the ambulance leads to faster treatment, our study is the first to determine that the test is actually associated with improved survival after a heart attack. 

“Ambulance services in the NHS compare favourably to countries such as the USA, where only a quarter of such patients get an ECG, but we need to do more to ensure that the groups we identified as not getting the test have improved care.

“Hopefully, our results will reinforce to paramedics the importance of carrying out an ECG when they suspect a heart attack, as well as flag up the types of patients who are currently less likely to receive this test, leaving them more vulnerable to poor outcomes.”

Find out more about Professor Quinn's research and discover our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Health and Social Care, including our dynamic Paramedic Practice degree.



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