Devise ways to quickly move patients in life-threatening situations

The surge in emergency patients caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus and the high incidence of heatstroke has meant that medical institutions ready to immediately accept such patients are often hard to find. An efficient emergency transport system must be realized to protect patients’ lives.

When an emergency patient is refused by different hospitals three or more times and an ambulance cannot leave the scene where a patient is being picked up for more than 30 minutes, it is called a “difficult-to-transport case.” The number of such cases reached a record high of about 6,700 nationwide during the week ending Aug. 14. That is a six-fold increase from before the pandemic.

In Tokyo this summer, it took as long as 35 hours to get a patient to a hospital. In some areas, fire engines have been dispatched to provide initial care to patients because of a shortage of ambulances. It must be said that this is an abnormal situation.

The number of coronavirus patients and heatstroke patients is rapidly increasing, and some heart attack or stroke patients also have fevers. Such a situation has led to a logjam of transports to hospitals that can deal with the coronavirus in the first place.

In addition, as a number of medical workers, such as doctors and nurses, have been infected with the coronavirus or have been in close contact with infected people, a significant number of hospitals have restricted their medical care services. This may be a factor that makes transporting of patients more difficult.

As a result, there is a fear that hospitals may refuse to accept even patients in life-threatening condition, and they may not be able to receive immediate treatment.

In response to such circumstances, the Osaka prefectural government has established a system in which a station with a total of 16 beds was set up in Osaka City where coronavirus patients can wait temporarily while receiving emergency treatment such as oxygen administration. The prefectural government said that ambulances can be soon dispatched to other locations after transporting patients to the waiting station, thus avoiding a situation in which ambulances end up stranded with no hospital to accept their patients.

The Fire Bureau of the Chiba municipal government has introduced a system that instantly converts emergency calls into text, including information on the condition of patients.

The city said its emergency service workers used to call hospitals one by one to check if they could accept patients, but now they can send patients’ information to hospitals in the city en masse, making it easier to coordinate hospitals to accept patients.

It is hoped that other local governments will also devise ways to accurately determine patients’ symptoms so that they can be transported more efficiently.

Some say that a large number of people calling ambulances even for mild cases is another factor making emergency transport so difficult. Using ambulances as an easy alternative to a taxi should be avoided, but it is also said that some people become anxious and make emergency calls because it is difficult to get through to facilities that treat outpatients who have a fever.

The Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases and other medical organizations recommend that young people who have no chronic diseases and can eat and drink should recuperate at home, and if they are unsure of whether to call an ambulance, they should contact the counseling service sections of their local governments.

Local governments also need to make efforts to expand their consultation services to reduce the burden on emergency medical services.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 19, 2022)