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Seconds Count: EMS in 50 Cities Measured

Aired July 29, 2003 - 19:42   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now if you have heart trouble or you're worried about your health, you'd like to believe that emergency help is just a few minutes away. But apparently not all cities stack up the same in how they respond to sudden cardiac arrest. How emergency teams react could mean the difference -- well, frankly, between life and death for you or a loved one for that matter.
"USA Today"'s Bob Davis has just finished an 18-month investigation into how the 50 largest U.S. cities measure up to the most critical emergency calls. He joins us now from Washington.

Bob, thanks for being with us. Basically what you find is that cities are underreporting their response times. Now why is that such a big concern?

BOB DAVIS, "USA TODAY": Well, it's a big concern because seconds mean life and death. I mean, life and death is really defined within six minutes in a lot of these sudden cardiac arrest cases. And if cities don't know exactly how quickly they're reaching a victim, they really can't measure their performance within with any accuracy.

COOPER: Now you say they're underreporting it. What does that mean? How are they doing that?

DAVIS: Well, they're just cutting a slice out of it. It's basically the travel time. It's the time from the -- from the time that they get the alert, to the time that the wheels start ruling to the time they reach the curb. And that's just a small fraction of the time that we're talking about.

When you dial 911, the time that it takes for that call to move through the 911 center and for word to get to a firehouse or an ambulance that help is need, and then once they park at the curb and it takes them time to get upstairs, get the security, whatever we're talking about a lot of time.

COOPER: And that's not the way they're measuring it. That's fascinating.

Now let's take a look at the cities with the best survival rates. I think we have a graphic. Seattle, Boston, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee. What are they doing right?

DAVIS: Well, a lot of things. They have strong oversight of their paramedics. They have doctors who are actively involved in monitoring the kind of care that they're giving and they're measuring the performance of their medics very closely.

COOPER: All right. Let's take a look at the three worst cities. We also have the graphic. San Antonio, Nashville and Omaha. Again, I guess the question, what are they doing wrong? How can they improve their survival rates?

DAVIS: Well, the first thing is they're probably on the track to improving as it is because at least they're measuring. More concerning to me is so many cities have no idea what they're doing, have no idea how many living they're saving or losing.

COOPER: Wait a minute. They're not even measuring it?

DAVIS: That's right. Most of the 50 cities that we surveyed had no idea how many victims of cardiac arrest like this they were saving or how many lives they were losing each year.

COOPER: Now, I mean, I noticed Chicago is not on the list, New York, Los Angeles. Why not?

DAVIS: Good question. We need to ask them because they decided they didn't have to provide us with the data. They decided they didn't have to answer that question.

COOPER: You mean, they didn't want to tell "USA Today" or they just don't provide that information to anyone?

DAVIS: Well, they didn't want to tell "USA Today." And the question is do they have that information and they're not telling us or do they not measure it so they don't know what they're doing?

COOPER: That's -- I mean, you'd think, this public information -- anyone should be able to get this information.

I think we have another graphic about sort of ways to improve survival rates. Let's put it on the screen and talk about it just briefly. Better trained dispatchers, teach public CPR. Sounds pretty basic.

DAVIS: Yes, it is basic. It's coming at it from both ends.

I mean, good dispatching is not -- it's not rocket science, but it takes training and it also takes oversight. Getting the public involved so you save some time on the other end. I mean, we can't dial 911 and sit around and wait. We've got to take some action.

COOPER: It's just remarkable, New York, L.A. and Chicago didn't even provide you with any information or if they in fact even have that information.

Bob Davis, it's a fascinating investigation. Took you a long time, 18 months. Great work. Thanks very much. DAVIS: Good to see you.


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