Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Increasing utilisation of emergency ambulances

Judy A. Lowthian A D , Peter A. Cameron A , Johannes U. Stoelwinder A , Andrea Curtis A , Alex Currell B , Matthew W. Cooke C and John J. McNeil A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre of Research Excellence in Patient Safety, Department of Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Level 6, Alfred Centre, 99 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia. Email: peter.cameron@monash.edu; just.stoelwinder@monash.edu; andrea.curtis@monash.edu; john.mcneil@monash.edu

B Ambulance Victoria, 375 Manningham Road, Doncaster, VIC 3108, Australia. Email: alex.currell@ambulance.vic.gov.au

C Emergency Care and Systems Improvement Group, Warwick Medical School & Emergency Medicine Consultant, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom; Medical School Building, Gibbet Hill Campus, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom. Email: m.w.cooke@warwick.ac.uk

D Corresponding author. Email: judy.lowthian@monash.edu

Australian Health Review 35(1) 63-69 https://doi.org/10.1071/AH09866
Submitted: 16 December 2009  Accepted: 18 May 2010   Published: 25 February 2011

Abstract

Background. Increased ambulance utilisation is closely linked with Emergency Department (ED) attendances. Pressures on hospital systems are widely acknowledged with ED overcrowding reported regularly in the media and peer-reviewed literature. Strains on ambulance services are less well-documented or studied.

Aims. To review the literature to determine the trends in utilisation of emergency ambulances throughout the developed world and to discuss the major underlying drivers perceived as contributing to this increase.

Method. A search of online databases, search engines, peer-reviewed journals and audit reports was undertaken.

Findings. Ambulance utilisation has increased in many developed countries over the past 20 years. Annual growth rates throughout Australia and the United Kingdom are similar. Population ageing, changes in social support, accessibility and pricing, and increasing community health awareness have been proposed as associated factors. As the extent of their contribution has not yet been established these factors were reviewed.

Conclusion. The continued rise in utilisation of emergency ambulances is placing increasing demands on ambulance services and the wider health system, potentially compromising access, quality, safety and outcomes. A variety of factors may contribute to this increase and targeted strategies to reduce utilisation will require an accurate identification of the major drivers of demand.

What is known about the topic? Ambulance utilisation is increasing annually throughout the developed world, with previous research suggesting numerous underlying factors.

What does this paper add? These factors have not been previously synthesised in the international literature. This narrative review clearly articulates the underlying problems.

What are the implications for practitioners? This paper outlines the need for further research of the causes of increased emergency ambulance utilisation, to enable the development of appropriate strategies to manage demand in the future.

Additional keywords: ambulances transportation, pre-hospital services, trends.


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