Decreases in routine healthcare practices have been shown to occur during disasters. However, research regarding the impacts of natural disasters, pandemics, or military conflicts on emergency medical services (EMS) is scarce.
This study assessed the impact of a military conflict versus the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on a national EMS organization in terms of responses to overall daily emergencies, medical illnesses, motor vehicle collisions, and other injuries.
This retrospective comparative cohort study assessed daily routine emergency ambulance calls to Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's national EMS organization. This included overall emergency calls as well as those related to medical illnesses, motor vehicle collisions (MVCs), and other injuries. All data were obtained from the MDA command and control database. During the military conflict Operation Protective Edge (2014), the civilian population was subjected to intensive rocket attacks for 24 days, followed by 26 days of a progressive withdrawal of operations and then to a post-conflict period. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (March-April 2020), the population was subjected to 32 days of total lockdown, followed by 27 days of progressive relief of confinement, and then to a post-lockdown period.
The total number of emergency calls in this study was 330,430. During the conflict, the mean number of daily calls decreased, followed by an increase during Relief and Post-Conflict with higher values in Post-Conflict than in Pre-Conflict. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a decrease in the mean daily number of calls during Lockdown. It remained low during Relief and increased during Post-Lockdown. However, it remained lower in Post-Lockdown than during Pre-Lockdown. Calls related to medical illnesses decreased during the conflict and during the lockdown. The post-conflict period was characterized by a similar baseline call magnitude but not during the post-lockdown period. Decreases in calls for MVC and other injuries were significant during the lockdown but not during the military conflict. Post-lockdown was accompanied by return to baseline call volumes for MVC, whereas calls for other injuries increased above baseline both after the lockdown and military conflict.
This study shows decreasing trends in routine daily calls for EMS during both Operation Protective Edge and COVID-19. However, different patterns of needs for EMS were evidenced for medical illnesses, MVC, or calls concerning other injuries. These results are instrumental for managing the operational demands of EMS during military conflicts and pandemics.