Throughout my EMS career I’ve heard a lot of the same complaints from paramedics that seem to be endemic within the system. One of these is the quality of physician medical direction and whether or not theirs is considered “Progressive” or “Permissive” by the EMTs and Paramedics that work within the protocol system. Some systems seem almost regressive. They don’t seem to show any trust in the providers that work within the protocols and end up being putting forth “Mother-May-I” protocols that disallow aggressive field treatment and require hand holding over the radio or cell phone to a base station. Others, are fairly progressive and allow quite a bit of treatment to be provided in the field.
However, even in the more progressive of the systems out there the medics always tend to have their own personal “wish list” of things that they’d like to be permitted to do. I currently work in the most progressive protocol system I’ve ever worked in and yet there are a few things that I would like to be allowed to do further than I can do now. Toradol for pain control, and the inclusion of a paralytic to our Medication Assisted Intubation protocols would be examples.
However, there begs a question here that I haven’t seen explored before: What if this was reversed?
Say tomorrow you head on into work and get there to hear the news that your medical director up and left for Tahiti with a new love interest with whom he or she will be very happy. Incidentally, you’ve now got a new medical director that just graduated medical school after spending 10 years as a field paramedic. There’s a “Get to Know Me” meeting scheduled in a half hour,
In the meeting the new medical director, who emphatically insists that you call him “Dr. Pat”, and then changes it to “Just Pat” outlines the new protocols that you will be functioning under starting as soon as you all can get through the trainings and meetings that are scheduled. These protocols are amazing. For example, your protocols for treatment of severe asthma used to include just oxygen, nebulized albuterol, and subcutaneous epinephrine. Now you’ll be giving Albuterol mixed with atrovent for your nebulizers, Epi 1:1000 sub-q or brethine (terbutaline) sub-q, epi 1:10000 IV for severe cases, Solu-Medrol (an injectable steroid), and Magnesium Sulfate infusions for refractory cases. For pain control, you used to have to call for orders to give Morphine. Now you give Morphine in 2mg increments titrated to effect up to 20mg if the blood pressure is over 100mmhg systolic, Fentanyl 50mcg – 200mcg, Toradol 60mg IM, and/or Nitronox (Inhaled Nitrous Oxide). The protocols are really advanced and have at least twenty new medications, some of which you’ve never even heard of.
Soon after you start reading the new protocols you start noticing things that frankly, scare you a bit. Never mind the fact that you don’t know how you’re going to calculate amiodarone drips and use propofol for conscious sedation, you’re frankly scared that the protocol system directs you to perform emergent C-Sections to save a viable fetus in cases of limb presentations in pregnancy. Really?
Mannitol and induced hypothermia for head injuries? Wow. You also now have needle crics, surgical crics, Needle decompression of the chest, pericardiocentesis, retrograde intubation, and what are those words? Thoracostomy (Chest Tubes)?? Thoracotomy? Holy crap! There’s almost nothing you can’t do!
After the meeting you head out on the streets with your partner. You’re honestly feeling a little nostalgic for the days when your Tahiti-bound regressive medical director wouldn’t let you be responsible for hardly anything. It’s completely opposite now. You’ve gone from one extreme to the other. There’s nothing that you’ve ever thought of doing in the field that you can’t do anymore.
On one hand this would be very exciting for me (and yes, I went a little overboard with plausible treatment modalities to make a point here) but on the other hand, I’d have to ask the question:
Where would be the line where progressive treatment protocols cross the line? When would be the point where paramedics are given too much responsibility for complex invasive treatments?
I’ve never seen the case I’m describing. I love working under a progressive and liberal protocol system. However, in a meeting the other day when the possibility of administering thrombolytics for refractory ventricular fibrillation in cardiac arrest came up I had a thought that I’d never had before:
“I don’t get paid enough to have that much responsibility. I take on a lot of liability and have to put in a lot of uncompensated education time for the meager wage that I get paid now… how much is that going to have to increase for no more money?”
I don’t want to think that way, and I’d have to question the dedication of any paramedic in any of the protocol systems that I’ve examined that would say no to being able to provide potentially lifesaving treatments to their patients. I can’t imagine refusing to do something because I didn’t think that I was compensated enough to take on the responsibility of doing it. I’d be happy to sit through the required education, but I doubt that they would increase the compensation of the medics in the above example.
Could it happen? Has it happened? Will it happen as treatments progress and professional responsibility increases? I’ll firmly say that I’m nowhere near adequately compensated for the responsibility I have today. Where would I be if the above scenario happened to me tomorrow?
EMS 2.0 needs to seek out and find answers to the questions that we haven’t asked yet just as much as we need to find answers to the questions we’ve been struggling with for years.
What do you think?