Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Transforming Ambulance Response Times in India

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The mean ambulance response time across India sits at about 40 minutes based on the geography and development of the cities. Such a delay is critical in the medical concept of Golden Hour after an Emergency. The critical ‘hour’ occurring immediately after an injury or the onset of an acute illness is when timely intervention holds the greatest potential to prevent morbidity or mortality. During this critical period, the significance of an ambulance in India is absolutely paramount.
The concept of the ‘Golden Hour’ extends beyond a mere timeframe; it embodies a race against the ticking clock, where each decision and action carry immense significance. Within this crucial hour, the value of a streamlined ambulance service cannot be emphasized enough. An ambulance is not merely a mode of transportation; it serves as the initial point of medical intervention. The immediate medical care delivered by a skilled ambulance service in India can frequently determine the pivotal difference between life and death.
A reduction of just one minute in emergency response time could save 30 percent of the lives lost during emergencies, which translates to around 1.5 lakh lives per year. 50 percent of lives lost in road accidents could have been saved if timely assistance was made available to the victims. Notably, the ambulance ratio in India is only 42% of the WHO recommended standard of 1:1,00,000. Prompt response is the foundational essence of emergency medical services and there are multiple challenges that hinders the progress.
Challenges in Ambulance Response Times
Traffic Congestion: Traffic congestion is a pervasive issue in many Indian cities. Ambulances often struggle to navigate through gridlocked roads, leading to life-threatening delays. Rush-hour traffic and poorly managed road networks can significantly impact response times.
Lack of Infrastructure: The inadequacy of ambulance infrastructure includes problems such as:
l Outdated or poorly
maintained vehicles
l Lack of advanced medical equipment
l Inadequate communication systems
l Lack of importance placed on emergency response infrastructure
Geographical Barriers: In remote, underdeveloped, and hilly areas, accessing emergency care can be particularly challenging due to a lack of resources or geographical challenges.
Resource Allocation: Shortages of ambulances and trained staff contribute to delayed response times. There is a steep shortage of trained EMT staff in the ambulances that arrive who, at times, fail to provide the right life-saving treatment in the ambulance.
Public Awareness: Lack of awareness about when and how to call for an ambulance is a significant challenge. People fail to recognise the early signs of an emergency and then struggle to locate and call for an ambulance losing precious life-saving minutes. Moreover, there needs to be awareness raised amongst the public to make way for ambulances.
GPS Technology: We are living in an age where groceries are getting delivered in 10 minutes and yet ambulances are taking more than half an hour to reach the houses. Integration of GPS technology and deploying it to calculate the most optimal route to the scene is essential to ensure the response times are reduced.
GPS Tech can also help patient’s families as they can track the ambulances to prepare the patient accordingly and get that added sense of assurance in dire situations.
Mobile Apps: It is imperative in this day and age that the emergency response is brought in the palms of each and every individual. A mobile app would make ambulances always within reach at the time of need. It would also help people to evaluate their situation better and might also help them choose the right hospital that would be equipped to handle a particular emergency.
Stationed Ambulances: Private and public players should consider stationing ambulances in population-dense areas such as parks, business centers, apartments, amusement parks, metros, etc. Stationed ambulances reduce the response time drastically as this eliminates one leg of ambulance response where after an emergency an ambulance takes time to reach the patient. With stationed ambulances, a patient can be on their way to the hospital to receive emergency care within 5 minutes.
Training Programs: It is very important to train the existing and incoming EMT responders. In India, the EMT program is not as robust as is required by the life-saving industry. Hence it is of utmost importance that we work on a continuous improvement plan for our ambulances and their staff. Moreover, such training initiatives are important in the corporate world to ensure that employees are ready to provide first aid and act as first responders in emergency circumstances.
5G Network: 5G Network is revolutionizing many industries across the world and improving the quality of life and output throughout. The same network can be deployed in our ambulances to enable them with real-time data transfer and remote monitoring. Deploying these features would enable medical professionals sitting in the hospital to check up on the patient while they are being transported in the ambulance. Essentially it brings the ER to the ambulance itself.
Community Engagement: Local leaders, schools, colleges, NGOs, and other such organizations should partner with hospitals and emergency responders to create awareness about the emergency services available to the masses. They should focus on recognizing the early signs of an emergency and generating awareness around all the govt and private players that people can reach out to in their time of need. They should also push the public to make way for ambulances and push authorities to focus on ambulance-specific infrastructure.
Addressing the challenges of ambulance response times in India demands a comprehensive and innovative approach. Recognizing the critical significance of the ‘Golden Hour,’ solutions ranging from GPS technology integration and mobile apps to stationed ambulances and 5G deployment offer promising avenues for reducing response times. Training programs, community engagement, and collaboration between sectors further contribute to a transformed emergency response ecosystem. By prioritizing these initiatives, India can establish a more efficient and responsive ambulance network, ensuring timely medical intervention and saving lives during emergencies.

(The author, Pranav Bajaj, is the Co-Founder of Medulance Healthcare.)

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