Ambulance services are often utilised for low-acuity conditions. This study seeks to understand under what medical circumstances the Australian public perceive it to be appropriate to call triple zero requesting ambulance assistance.
A total of 544 participants completed a 15-minute online survey distributed via social media, flyers and email links. Participants viewed 17 medical case study scenarios, developed in consultation with a panel of paramedic experts, and were asked to select which of nine possible medical interventions was most appropriate. A panel of paramedic experts reached consensus for each case study on whether it was or was not appropriate to call for triple zero assistance.
Inappropriate medical intervention responses were more prevalent in scenarios deemed appropriate for ambulance assistance, compared with scenarios where an ambulance call-out was inappropriate (48% vs. 3% respectively, p<0.001). Many scenarios where ambulance use was appropriate found respondents utilising other healthcare services typically associated with lower-acuity conditions. Individuals without first aid training were more inclined to choose healthcare services incorrectly (65% vs. 69% respectively, p<0.001).
Responses to our case studies suggested a lack of understanding of situations that warrant an emergency. First aid training and education regarding medical emergencies and paramedic scope-of-practice would be beneficial. This study did not demonstrate substantial inappropriate ambulance usage, however respondents did not recognise the severity of certain emergencies and were inclined to utilise other healthcare services. Further research investigating the rationale behind triple zero use, improving public education and clarifying the role of paramedics is required.
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