Introduction Response times have been used as a key quality indicator for emergency ambulance services in the United Kingdom, but criticised for their narrow focus. Consequently, there is a need to consider wider measures of quality. The patient perspective is becoming an increasingly important dimension in pre-hospital outcomes research. To that end, we aimed to investigate patients' experiences of the 999 ambulance service to understand the processes and outcomes important to them.
Methods We employed a qualitative design, using semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of people who had recently used a 999 ambulance in the East Midlands. We recruited patients of different age, sex, geographical location, and ambulance service response including ‘hear and treat’, ‘see and treat’ and ‘see and convey’.
Results We interviewed 20 service users. Eleven men and nine women participated and 12 were aged 65 years and over. Users valued a quick response when they perceived the call to be an emergency. This was of less value to those who did not perceive their situation as an emergency and irrelevant to ‘hear and treat’ users. All users valued the professional approach and information and advice given by call handlers, crew and first responders, which provided them with reassurance in a worrying situation. ‘See and convey’ users valued a seamless handover to secondary care.
Limitations We found it challenging to engage participants to consider quality indicators beyond response times because these were considered to be abstract in comparison with their concrete experiences.
Conclusions and recommendations Aspects other than response times were important to patients, particularly in situations perceived by patients to be non-emergency. The results will be combined with issues identified from systematic reviews and used in a Delphi study to identify candidates for new outcome measures for emergency ambulance services.
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