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There is evidence to suggest that patients delayed seeking urgent medical care during the first wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. A delay in health-seeking behavior could increase the disease severity of patients in the prehospital setting. The combination of COVID-19-related missions and augmented disease severity in the prehospital environment could result in an increase in the number and severity of physician-staffed prehospital interventions, potentially putting a strain on this highly specialized service.
The aim was to investigate if the COVID-19 pandemic influences the frequency of physician-staffed prehospital interventions, prehospital mortality, illness severity during prehospital interventions, and the distribution in the prehospital diagnoses.
A retrospective, multicenter cohort study was conducted on prehospital charts from March 14, 2020 through April 30, 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, in an urban area. Recorded data included demographics, prehospital diagnosis, physiological parameters, mortality, and COVID-status. A modified National Health Service (NHS) National Early Warning Score (NEWS) was calculated for each intervention to assess for disease severity. Data were analyzed with univariate and descriptive statistics.
There was a 31% decrease in physician-staffed prehospital interventions during the period under investigation in 2020 as compared to 2019 (2019: 644 missions and 2020: 446 missions), with an increase in prehospital mortality (OR = 0.646; 95% CI, 0.435 – 0.959). During the study period, there was a marked decrease in the low and medium NEWS groups, respectively, with an OR of 1.366 (95% CI, 1.036 – 1.802) and 1.376 (0.987 – 1.920). A small increase was seen in the high NEWS group, with an OR of 0.804 (95% CI, 0.566 – 1.140); 2019: 80 (13.67%) and 2020: 69 (16.46%). With an overall decrease in cases in all diagnostic categories, a significant increase was observed for respiratory illness (31%; P = .004) and cardiac arrest (54%; P < .001), combined with a significant decrease for intoxications (-58%; P = .007). Due to the national test strategy at that time, a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) result was available in only 125 (30%) patients, of which 20 (16%) were positive.
The frequency of physician-staffed prehospital interventions decreased significantly. There was a marked reduction in interventions for lower illness severity and an increase in higher illness severity and mortality. Further investigation is needed to fully understand the reasons for these changes.