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Study Finds Link Between Physician Response Time and Survival

A study of doctor response time in emergency situations published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a strong correlation between delayed time to defibrillation after in-hospital cardiac arrest and a patient’s likelihood of survival. The study lasted five years and covered nearly 15% of the large hospitals in the country. The factors the study identified as highly correlated with response time were hospital size and admitting diagnosis. Small hospitals tended to have quicker response time while patients admitted with non-cardiac diagnoses experienced a higher response time following cardiac arrest.

Surprisingly, however, the study also found a strong correlation between race and response time. In fact, African-Americans and Native Americans experienced nearly 25% greater response times when undergoing cardiac arrest. 25% is extremely significant when considering that only 30% of patients underwent defibrillation after two minutes. However, any time beyond two minutes exceeds the guidelines-based recommendations. This speaks to major problems in hospital response time where nearly 1/3 of responses exceed widely-accepted recommendations.

The significance of this delayed response time? When defibrillation was delayed, patients only had a 22% chance of survival while reasonable response time resulted in a nearly 40% survival rate. Furthermore, the study’s numbers were skewed in favor of successful hospitals as the study was voluntary. One of the study’s authors even noted that this likely resulted in responses from only generally quality care facilities.

Following this study, physicians should realize seconds do make a difference. Many of us have images of doctors on television yelling “Code Blue” and running to revive their patients. In reality, unfortunately, physicians are not always as quick to the punch. In hospitals where such delays are a recurring event, the lack of an adequate response is nothing short of negligent.

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