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New study finds ambulances are slower to get to patients in low-income areas

Posted at 2:21 PM, Nov 30, 2018

In an emergency, seconds count. But people living in low-income neighborhoods are waiting longer to get help.

A new nationwide study released by the University of California San Francisco looked at more than 63,000 cardiac arrest cases and found, on average, it took ambulances nearly four minutes longer to get to patients in low-income neighborhoods compared to rich neighborhoods.

“Ambulance response times is really, really important for health outcomes with regards to heart attacks,” says Andrew Friedson, an assistant professor of economics with the University of Colorado Denver.

In fact, each minute delayed increases the odd that patient will not survive.

“If you live in a wealthier area, your life expectancy is much longer than someone who lives in a poorer area,” Friedson says. “And this paper is starting to get into the mechanism as to one of the reasons this may be the case and that is ambulances tend to be a lot faster in area that are richer opposed to areas that are poorer.”

Friedson, who studies economic disparities in healthcare, says one of the biggest reasons behind the difference in ambulance response times has to do with money.

“You have a lot more specialty centers that are opening up in wealthier areas and you have hospitals that are closing in poorer areas, so it's not a question of the ambulances are going slower, but it's that the ambulances have further to travel.”

With those hospital closures and the rising cost of health care, the authors of the study hope the report will start a conversation about what can be done to help vulnerable patients.