Ambulance data has been reported to be a sensitive indicator of health service use during hot days, but there is no comprehensive summary of the quantitative association between heat and ambulance dispatches. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to retrieve and synthesise evidence published up to 31 August 2022 about the association between heat, prolonged heat (i.e. heatwaves), and the risk of ambulance dispatches. We initially identified 3628 peer-reviewed papers and included 48 papers which satisfied the inclusion criteria. The meta-analyses showed that, for each 5 °C increase in mean temperature, the risk of ambulance dispatches for all causes and for cardiovascular diseases increased by 7% (95% confidence interval (CI): 5%, 10%) and 2% (95% CI: 1%, 3%), respectively, but not for respiratory diseases. The risk of ambulance dispatches increased by 6% (95% CI: 4%, 7%), 7% (95% CI: 5%, 9%), and 18% (95% CI: 12%, 23%) under low-intensity, severe, and extreme heatwaves, respectively. We observed two potential sources of bias in the existing literature: (1) bias in temperature exposure measurement; and (2) bias in the ascertainment of ambulance dispatch causes. This review suggests that heat exposure is associated with an increased risk of ambulance dispatches, and there is a dose-response relationship between heatwave intensity and the risk of ambulance dispatches. For future studies assessing the heat-ambulance association, we recommend that (1) using data on spatially refined gridded temperature that is either very well interpolated or derived from satellite imaging may be an alternative to reduce exposure measurement bias; and (2) linking ambulance data with hospital admission data can be useful to improve health outcome classification.

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