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Ambulance stretcher-related injuries are not uncommon

Research Activities, September 2009

Each year, emergency medical services in the United States transport 16 million patients to hospital emergency departments by ambulance. Stretcher-related injuries to patients, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or others are not uncommon when patients are being transported to, from, or in an ambulance, concludes a new study.

Henry E. Wang, M.D., M.S., of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues found that 671 adverse events involving stretchers were reported during a 10-year period (1996-2006). One in five adverse events caused injury to the patient, ambulance personnel, or other individuals. The researchers used a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) database of medical device adverse events to identify and characterize stretcher-related adverse events, including injuries and deaths during the study period. Adverse events involving the stretcher's construction or mechanical operation are required to be reported by the manufacturer, and may also be reported voluntarily by emergency medical services or hospitals.

The most common stretcher-related adverse events involved a tipped or collapsed stretcher (54 percent); a broken, missing, or malfunctioning part (28 percent); or a dropped stretcher (7 percent). Injuries occurred to 130 individuals during 121 adverse events. Of 130 injuries, 71 (56 percent) happened to ambulance personnel, 50 (38 percent) happened to patients, and 9 (7 percent) happened to other individuals. Strains and sprains were most common among ambulance personnel, while fractures and lacerations were more common in patients. Three deaths occurred in patients, and each group had one traumatic brain injury. The researchers note that the FDA database used was not comprehensive, and may underestimate the true frequency of these incidents.

The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13628). More details are in "Ambulance stretcher adverse events," by Dr. Wang, Matt D. Weaver, B.S., Benjamin N. Abo, B.S., N.R.E.M.T.-P., and others, in the 2009 Quality and Safety in Health Care 18, pp. 213-216.

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Page last reviewed September 2009
Internet Citation: Ambulance stretcher-related injuries are not uncommon: Research Activities, September 2009. September 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.