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Manitobans less likely to call for ambulance: national report

Province has Canada's highest fees, but organization stops short of link

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Only 33 per cent of Manitobans call an ambulance when having a heart attack.</p>


Only 33 per cent of Manitobans call an ambulance when having a heart attack.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/7/2016 (1432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitobans are the least likely to call an ambulance when having a heart attack or stroke within Canadian provinces, a new report by the the Canadian Institute for Health Information revealed.

The report released Monday shows only 33 per cent of Manitobans call an ambulance when they experience a heart attack, compared to the nationwide average of 46 per cent. Only residents living in the Territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) report smaller figures, with only a quarter of patients calling an ambulance.

It is a decision that could mean life or death when dealing with time sensitive conditions, warned Dr. Arturo Tamayo, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Manitoba. Tamayo is also the director of Brandon Stroke Prevention Clinic and Heath Sciences Centre Stroke Clinic.

"They are putting themselves in serious complications, because as you know patients with heart attacks can die within the first hour," Tamayo said, adding that for someone experiencing a stroke, every minute the patient is not treated can mean damage to their brain.

Every other province sees heart attack patients arrive by ambulance 40 per cent of the time or more. Quebec data is not included in the study.

Meanwhile, a Manitoban experiencing a stroke will call an ambulance only 51 per cent of the time - the lowest percentage in the country. The nationwide average is 63 per cent.

The report examined patients above the age 18 who were discharged from hospital for stroke or heath attack in 2014-2015.

Tamayo believes there are three reasons Manitobans are not calling an ambulance in these cases. Firstly, they do not realize the seriousness of their condition and decide to drive to the hospital. Secondly, since they live close enough to the hospital, they believe it is easier to get themselves there. Lastly, he argues the high cost of taking an ambulance in the province can factor into the decision.

Data from the non-profit organization show Manitobans have the highest ambulance fees in the country. Winnipeggers are charged $522 when they are transported to hospital. In Prairie Mountain Health region in western Manitoba, the flat-rate fee of $530 is the highest in Canada.

However, the correlation between the cost of ambulance fees and rate of use could not be determined in the report because the CIHI did not have information on whether patients paid for ambulance service through subsidies, private insurance or out or pocket.

The benefits to calling an ambulance is that paramedics are able to immediately start treatment and can assess the patients to ensure they are taken to the right hospital, Tamayo said. For example he noted in Winnipeg, patients with a stroke will be sent to either St. Boniface Hospital or Health Sciences Centre. St. Boniface is also the only hospital with a specialized cardiac unit.

"Most of them go to the wrong hospital and there is important time that is lost," he said.

"If I am going to be able to talk and walk after a stroke because I was transported to the correct hospital, I think that $500 is worth it. If I don't want to pay and I go to the wrong hospital, that part of my brain could be dead once I reach the right hospital."

The Pallister government has pledged to slash ambulance fees in half by the end of its first term, but its first budget, tabled May 31, included a fee reduction of just five per cent.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen was unavailable for an interview. A statement provided by provincial spokeswoman Amy McGuinness outlined that high ambulance fees may be why Manitobans are not calling for an ambulance when they need one.

"We know that ambulances provide critical, life-saving care to patients experiencing a heart attack or stroke. While this report outlines a variety of factors that influence ambulance usage, we know that high ambulance fees result in some Manitobans who need an ambulance, not calling for one," McGuinness said in the statement. "Budget 2016 begins to reduce ambulance fees and future budgets will provide further support for more ambulance fee reductions."

Overall, the report found that stroke or heart-attack patients below the age of 45, living close to a hospital or in a higher-income neighbourhood, were less likely to call for an ambulance. Patients with a history of stroke or heart attack are more likely to use an ambulance.



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Updated on Monday, July 4, 2016 at 7:41 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

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