Background Ambulance service performance measurement has previously focused on response times and survival. We conducted a systematic review of the international literature on quality measures and outcomes relating to pre-hospital ambulance service care, aiming to identify a broad range of outcome measures to provide a more meaningful assessment of ambulance service care.
Methods We searched a number of electronic databases including CINAHL, the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, Medline, and Web of Science. For inclusion, studies had to report either research or evaluation conducted in a pre-hospital setting, published in the English language from 1982 to 2011, and reporting either outcome measures or specific outcome instruments.
Results Overall, 181 full-text articles were included: 83 (46%) studies from North America, 50 (28%) from Europe and 21 (12%) from the UK. A total of 176 articles were obtained after examining 257 full-text articles in detail from 5,088 abstracts screened. A further five papers were subsequently identified from references of the articles examined and studies known to the authors. There were 140 articles (77%) which contained at least one survival-related measure, 47 (34%) which included information about length of stay and 87 (48%) which identified at least one place of discharge as an outcome.
Limitations We encountered the problem of incomplete information, for instance studies not specifying which pain scales when these had been used or using survival without a specific time period.
Conclusion and recommendations In addition to measures relating to survival, length of stay and place of discharge, we identified 247 additional outcome measures. Few studies included patient reported or cost outcomes. By identifying a wide range of outcome measures this review will inform further research looking at the feasibility of using a wider range of outcome measures and developing new outcome measures in prehospital research and quality improvement.
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