Background: It is recommended that eligible patients receive thrombolytic treatment within 90 min of alerting medical or ambulance services. The Donegal Area Rapid Treatment Study (DARTS) showed that pre-hospital thrombolysis reduces "call to needle" times for patients living remote from the hospital base [Donegal Area Rapid Treatment Study (DARTS): Final Report. North Western Health Board]. Aim: To review DARTS data to describe the potential impact of pre-hospital thrombolysis on a defined population. Method: Data from the DARTS project was reviewed to describe cases where thrombolysis was not administered, cases where thrombolysis was administered in hospital but not in the community, and to extrapolate these findings to other rural regions in the area to identify the potential for additional pre-hospital thrombolysis. Results: Eighty-four patients from DARTS practices presented to the district hospital with AMI during the study period with 35% (29/84) receiving thrombolysis. Of the 29 who received thrombolysis, 87% (25) were referred from the general practitioner. Of these, 32% (8/25) were administered thrombolysis by the general practitioner. Of the general practitioner referrals that did not receive pre-hospital thrombolysis (n = 17), 65% (11/17) were not thrombolysed in the community for appropriate clinical reasons and 35% (6/17) could have been potentially eligible for pre-hospital thrombolysis. Inclusion of these patients suggests a potential pre-hospital thrombolysis rate in the region of 56%. For the rural Donegal areas this would result in a potential 17 cases per year being eligible for pre-hospital thrombolysis. Conclusions: Currently, 35% of the 240 AMIs that occur annually in the region receive thrombolysis. Broad implementation of DARTS in the region would provide pre-hospital thrombolysis to approximately an additional 25 patients each year, with a potential for further gains. For this to become a reality, support and encouragement must be provided to all rural general practitioners, the ambulance services, receiving hospitals and policy makers to implement a pre-hospital thrombolysis policy. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.