The Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) is an emergency medical dispatch system widely used to prioritize 9-1-1 calls and optimize resource allocation. This study evaluates whether the assigned priority predicts a Delphi process-derived level of prehospital intervention in each emergency medical dispatch category.
All patients given a MPDS priority in a suburban California county from 2004–2006 were included. A Delphi process of emergency medical services (EMS) professionals in another system developed the following categories of prehospital treatment representing increasing acuity, which were adapted for this study: advanced life support (ALS) intervention, ALS–Stat, and ALS–Critical. The sensitivities and specificities of MPDS priority for level of prehospital intervention were determined for each MPDS category.
A total of 65,268 patients met inclusion criteria, representing 61% of EMS calls during the study period. The overall sensitivities of high-priority dispatch codes for ALS, ALS-Stat, and ALS-Critical interventions were 83% (95% confidence interval 83–84%), 83% (82–84%), and 94% (92–96%). Overall specificities were: ALS, 32% (31–32%); ALS-Stat, 31% (30–31%); and ALS-Critical 28% (28–29%). Compared to calls assigned to a low priority, calls with high-priority dispatch codes were more likely to receive ALS interventions by 22%, ALS-Stat by 20%, and ALS-Critical by 32%. A low priority dispatch code decreased the likelihood of ALS interventions by 48%, ALS-Stat by 45%, and ALS-Critical by 80%. Among high-priority dispatch codes, the rates of interventions were: ALS 26%, ALS-Stat 22%, and ALS-Critical 1.5%, all of which were significantly greater than low-priority calls (p <0.05) [ALS 13%, ALS-Stat 11%, and ALS-Critical 0.2%]. Major MPDS were categories with high sensitivities (>95%) for ALS interventions included breathing problems, cardiac or respiratory arrest/death, chest pain, stroke, and unconscious/fainting; these categories had an average specificity of 3%. Medical Priority Dispatch System categories such as back pain, unknown problem, and traumatic injury had sensitivities for ALS interventions <15%.
The MPDS is moderately sensitive for the Delphi process derived ALS, ALS-Stat, and ALS-Critical intervention levels, but non-specific. A low MPDS priority is predictive of no prehospital intervention. A high priority, however, is of little predictive value for ALS, ALS-Stat, or ALSCritical interventions.