August 12, 1996

The Revolution and Evolution of Prehospital Cardiac Care

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle (Drs Eisenberg and Cobb); Department of Cardiology, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Northern Ireland (Dr Pantridge); and Department of Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg (Dr Geddes).

Arch Intern Med. 1996;156(15):1611-1619. doi:10.1001/archinte.1996.00440140021002

Prehospital cardiac care, first established in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1966, may be called revolutionary in that it was a radical break from existing practices. The Belfast program "moved" the coronary care unit into the community by treating the early complications of acute myocardial infarcation. The program staffed a mobile coronary care unit with a physician and nurse and demonstrated that patients with out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest could be resuscitated. The idea of prehospital cardiac care spread to other countries after publication of the Belfast experience in the Lancet. The first program in the United States, stationed at St Vincent's Hospital in New York, NY, began in 1968 and was modeled after the Belfast program. The physician-staffed model, however, was not widely imitated in the United States. Rather, beginning in 1969, programs using specially trained personnel, know as paramedics, began in Miami, Fla, Seattle, Wash, Columbus, Ohio, Los Angeles, Calif, Portland, Ore, and Nassau County, New York. Paramedic-staffed programs were designed not only to treat early complications of acute myocardial infarction, but also to attempt resuscitation for primary cardiac arrest. Most of the early paramedic programs were based in fire departments. Other programs used private ambulance or police personnel. Prehospital cardiac care has evolved significantly in the past 3 decades. Some notable developments include the tiered response system, training of the general public in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, low-energy defibrillators, automatic external defibrillators, and 12-lead electrocardiographic telemetry. The basic lesson of prehospital cardiac care is that the timely provision of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation saves lives.

Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:1611-1619