In acute coronary syndrome the time elapsed between the start of symptoms and the moment the patient receives treatment is an important determinant of survival and subsequent recovery. However, many patients do not receive treatment as quickly as recommended, mostly due to substantial prehospital delays such as waiting to seek medical attention after symptoms have started.
To conduct a systematic review with meta-analysis of the relationship between nine frequently investigated psychological and cognitive factors and prehospital delay.
A protocol was preregistered in PROSPERO [CRD42018094198] and a systematic review was conducted following PRISMA guidelines.
The following databases were searched for quantitative articles published between 1997 and 2019: Medline (PubMed), Web of Science, Scopus, Psych Info, PAIS, and Open grey.
Study risk of bias was assessed with the NIH Quality Assessment Tool for Observational, Cohort, and Cross-Sectional Studies. A best evidence synthesis was performed to summarize the findings of the included studies.
Forty-eight articles, reporting on 57 studies from 23 countries met the inclusion criteria. Studies used very diverse definitions of prehospital delay and analytical practices, which precluded meta-analysis. The best evidence synthesis indicated that there was evidence that patients who attributed their symptoms to a cardiac event (n = 37), perceived symptoms as serious (n = 24), or felt anxiety in response to symptoms (n = 15) reported shorter prehospital delay, with effect sizes indicating important clinical differences (e.g., 1.5–2 h shorter prehospital delay). In contrast, there was limited evidence for a relationship between prehospital delay and knowledge of symptoms (n = 18), concern for troubling others (n = 18), fear (n = 17), or embarrassment in asking for help (n = 14).
The current review shows that symptom attribution to cardiac events and some degree of perceived threat are fundamental to speed up help-seeking. In contrast, social concerns and barriers in seeking medical attention (embarrassment or concern for troubling others) may not be as important as initially thought. The current review also shows that the use of very diverse methodological practices strongly limits the integration of evidence into meaningful recommendations. We conclude that there is urgent need for common guidelines for prehospital delay study design and reporting.