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Nine golden codes: improving the accuracy of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) dispatch-a retrospective, multi-organisational study in the East of England.

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Edmunds, Christopher T  ORCID logo
Lachowycz, Kate 
McLachlan, Sarah 
Downes, Andrew 
Smith, Andrew 


BACKGROUND: Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) are a limited and expensive resource, and should be intelligently tasked. HEMS dispatch was identified as a key research priority in 2011, with a call to identify a 'general set of criteria with the highest discriminating potential'. However, there have been no published data analyses in the past decade that specifically address this priority, and this priority has been reaffirmed in 2023. The objective of this study was to define the dispatch criteria available at the time of the initial emergency call with the greatest HEMS utility using a large, regional, multi-organizational dataset in the UK. METHODS: This retrospective observational study utilized dispatch data from a regional emergency medical service (EMS) and three HEMS organisations in the East of England, 2016-2019. In a logistic regression model, Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System (AMPDS) codes with ≥ 50 HEMS dispatches in the study period were compared with the remainder to identify codes with high-levels of HEMS patient contact and HEMS-level intervention/drug/diagnostic (HLIDD). The primary outcome was to identify AMPDS codes with a > 10% HEMS dispatch rate of all EMS taskings that would result in 10-20 high-utility HEMS dispatches per 24-h period in the East of England. Data were analysed in R, and are reported as number (percentage); significance was p < 0.05. RESULTS: There were n = 25,491 HEMS dispatches (6400 per year), of which n = 23,030 (90.3%) had an associated AMPDS code. n = 13,778 (59.8%) of HEMS dispatches resulted in patient contact, and n = 8437 (36.6%) had an HLIDD. 43 AMPDS codes had significantly greater rates of patient contact and/or HLIDD compared to the reference group. In an exploratory analysis, a cut-off of ≥ 70% patient contact rate and/or ≥ 70% HLIDD (with a > 10% HEMS dispatch of all EMS taskings) resulted in 17 taskings per 24-h period. This definition derived nine AMPDS codes with high HEMS utility. CONCLUSION: We have identified nine 'golden' AMPDS codes, available at the time of initial emergency call, that are associated with high-levels of whole-system and HEMS utility in the East of England. We propose that UK EMS should consider immediate HEMS dispatch to these codes.


Acknowledgements: We acknowledge the assistance of EEAST in aiding with providing core data to allow the analysis in the paper to be undertaken.


Air ambulances, Emergency medical dispatch, Emergency medical services, Prehospital emergency care, Humans, Retrospective Studies, Emergency Medical Dispatch, Emergency Medical Services, England, Aircraft

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Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC