Introduction: A common reason for utilizing local paramedics and the emergency medical services is for the recognition and immediate treatment of chest pain, a complaint that has multiple possible etiologies. While many of those complaining of disease processes responsible for chest pain are benign, some will be life-threatening and will require immediate identification and treatment. The ability of paramedics to not only perform field electrocardiograms (ECGs), but to accurately diagnose various unstable cardiac rhythms has shown significant reduction in time to specific treatments. Increasing the overall accuracy of ECG interpretation by paramedics has the potential to facilitate early and appropriate treatment and decrease patient morbidity and mortality.
Methods: A convenient training device (flip book) on ambulances and in common areas in the fire station could improve field interpretation of certain cardiac rhythms. This training device consists of illustrated sample ECG tracings and their associated diagnostic criteria. The goal was to enhance the recognition and interpretation of ECGs, and thereby, reduce delays in the initiation of treatment and potential complications associated with misinterpretation.
This study was a prospective, observational study using a matched pre-test/post-test design. The study period was from November 2008 to December 2008. A total of 136 paramedics were approached to participate in this study. A pre-test consisting of 15 12-lead ECGs was given to all paramedics who agreed to participate in the study. Once the pre-tests were completed, the flip books were placed in common areas. Approximately one month after the flip books were made available to the paramedics, a post-test was administered.
Statistical comparisons were made between the pre- and post-test scores for both the global test and each type of rhythm.
Results: Using these data, there were no statistically significant improvements in the global ECG interpretation or on individual rhythm interpretations.
Conclusions: A flip book with multiple ECG rhythms and definitions without the benefit of any outside support was not effective in improving paramedic identification of ECG rhythms on a post-test. Suggestions for further research include repeating the study with a larger sample size; utilizing a lecturer to explain how to use the flip book in the most efficient manner; reiterating how to read and interpret ECGs; and answering questions. Comparing test scores of paramedic students, and newly certified paramedics as opposed to veteran paramedics also may indicate that the flip books are more suited for one group over another.