Emergency Medicine Health Studies
09202017_ambulance_JHM Credit/Johns Hopkins Medicine

A new study finds that victims of gunshots and stabbings are significantly less likely to die if they're taken to the trauma center by a private vehicle than ground emergency medical services (EMS).

September 20, 2017

Shot or stabbed? You may not want to call an ambulance

Analysis: Victims more likely to die if transported to the trauma center by EMS

A new analysis suggests that victims of gunshots and stabbings are significantly less likely to die if they're taken to the trauma center by a private vehicle than ground emergency medical services (EMS).

The study's findings highlights the importance of studying the effects of transport, EMS services and other prehospital interventions by specific injury type, according to a report published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery. 

"Time is truly of the essence when it comes to certain kinds of injuries and our analysis suggests that, for penetrating injuries such as knife and gun wounds, it might be better to just get to a trauma center as soon as possible in whatever way possible," said Elliott Haut, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of surgery and emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the paper's senior author, in a news release about the study.

Acknowledging that more research is needed before declaring one type of transport superior to another, he said, "For certain types of injury, it might be best to call the police, Uber or a cab – however you can get to the trauma center fastest."

In what the researchers believe is the first effort of its kind to evaluate ambulance versus private vehicle transportation, they elected to analyze the relationship between transport mode and in-hospital mortality (death in the emergency department and prior to discharge) on a city-by-city, trauma system level.

For the study, Haut and colleagues examined data from the American College of Surgeons National Trauma Data Bank, the largest available collection of United States trauma registry data. Specifically, the team examined information already gathered on 103,029 patients at least 16 years old who entered a U.S. trauma center between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, for a gunshot or stab wound and were transported to the trauma center by ground EMS (ambulance) or private vehicle. The data were gathered from 298 level I and level II trauma centers within the 100 most populous U.S. metro areas.

Approximately 16.4 percent of all patients were transported by private vehicle. The analysis found an overall 2.2 percent mortality rate for patients transported via private vehicle, compared to 11.6 percent for ground EMS.

Gunshot victims transported by private vehicle saw a lower mortality rate (4.5 percent versus 19.3 percent), as did stab victims (0.2 percent versus 2.9 percent). When adjusting for differences in injury severity, patients with penetrating injuries were 62 percent less likely to die when transported by private vehicle compared to EMS.

"Unlike CPR and defibrillation for heart attacks, the type of damage done in penetrating trauma often can't be reversed in a prehospital setting. This study supports other studies that prehospital interventions can actually result in less favorable outcomes for certain types of injuries," said Michael W. Wandling, M.D, M.S., an American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Scholar in Residence, general surgery resident at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the study's first author.