Did I do good?
The Chronicles of EMS, if you’re living under a rock and you haven’t heard, is a cooperative effort between the Great Filmmaker Thaddeus Setla (EMSmedia.tv), the Remarkably Strong Paramedic Mark Glencourse (Medic999), and the “Ruggedly Handsome” firefighter/paramedic Justin Schorr (The Happy Medic). Their cooperative venture has taught me things that I’ve put to use in my own EMS practice that I believe have improved my care. Mark showed me the UK’s “Front Loaded” model and Justin has been talking about EMS providers being a gatekeeper to the emergency healthcare system. It’s a powerful collaboration. (Be sure to follow #CoEMS on twitter and become a fan of Chronicles of EMS on Facebook as well)
So here’s an example of what I mean. I can talk about this now because it’s been long enough that I can sufficiently muddle any possible trace back to the patient and fulfill any patient confidentiality concerns. I work in two very diverse service areas and cover approximately 35 different skilled nursing facilities at any one time. So in the time since the Chronicles of EMS has come out I’ve transported umpteen-hundred patients from those facilities and the patient I’m writing about could be any of those umpteen hundred. So there’s no way to violate confidentiality, Mmmm ‘Kay?
Anyway, some time ago I was dispatched as the ALS response to backup a BLS ambulance for the “unresponsive” patient at a skilled nursing facility. I arrived a few seconds after the ambulance did and carried my drug bag and EKG/Defib into the facility with the ambulance crew following close behind with their jump kit, the cot, and a backboard. After a few seconds in the facility, a staff member directed me to the Physical Therapy area of the facility which was a bit of a walk. When I got there, I saw three other staff members huddled around an elderly female patient who was seated in a reclining chair.
The staff members were fairly excited about the situation, as was the patient, who was very much conscious and alert. The story everyone told me at once was that the patient had finished her physical therapy session on her upper body to strengthen her shoulders and had been sat in the chair by the PT Assistant to rest. After a few minutes, the PT asst. came to check on the patient and found her unresponsive to verbal stimuli, by which I mean that the patient would not awake when spoken to. The PT asst. called the facility’s emergency response team and another staff member activated 911. When one of the nurses arrived, the patient awoke to a sternal rub and was quite surprised to be the subject of so much attention. She had been fully alert and cognitive since that time and when I asked her she denied any chief complaint other than being understandably emotional about the situation.
As I do with every patient after I rule out any immediate life threats I moved into a more detailed assessment. My lady here had skin that was Pink, Warm, and dry. Her pupils were PERRL and her Cincinatti Pre-hospital stroke scale was negative. Her Lungs were clear, her abdomen was soft and non-tender with normoactive bowel sounds, and her extremities were warm and had good pulses, motor, and sensation. Her blood glucose was well within limits, and so were all of her vital signs. All of my other assessment findings were not indicative of any acute abnormalities other than a complaint of slight shoulder pain and weakness which could have been indicative of either an acute MI or of a rigorous PT session. So, to be even more thorough, I hooked her up to my 5-lead EKG which showed normal sinus rhythm with some peaked T-waves. I then ran a 12-lead EKG which was admittedly probably better than mine is.
I asked the nurse “Has she had a potassium level drawn recently?” She looked through the patient’s chart and found out that the patient in fact had been tested for that two days prior and had been found to have a slightly elevated serum potassium level. Since they had been active witnesses to my assessment we agreed that other than for perhaps a bit too much potassium there was little chance of anything being wrong with the patient.
Since we were here in the US and not in the UK like Mark, where he can treat and release (or “Respond, not Convey”) I asked the patient if she wanted us to take her to the hospital. She didn’t want to go and said that she just wanted to go back to bed. When the staff members weren’t completely convinced that we shouldn’t transport her, I suggested that they call the patient’s primary care physician to ask him what his wishes were. The nurse did so, and called from her cell phone in front of us. She did a good job of explaining in detail the events of the call and our collective assessment findings, I provided my interpretation of the 12-lead EKG and chimed in with my assessment findings that I use in my acute care practice.
For his part, the doctor was amenable to treating the patient at the facility and stated that he was comfortable with us not transporting the patient. He ordered a few stat labs and requested that we leave a copy of the 12-lead for the patient’s chart, which I was happy to do. Bottom line: The patient signed a refusal and was happy not to have to go to the hospital; The skilled-nursing-facility staff members were happy that the patient was in no immediate danger; and I was happy that we had made the best possible decision for the patient and that I wasn’t exposing her to unnecessary risk.
What happened here is exactly one of the things that I and others have been talking about with the EMS 2.0 movement: EMS people having the ability to make an educated and sound decision about the best possible healthcare options for our patients and not simply having to activate the full emergency healthcare system for every complaint. This case had every element of that and I believe that the patient being redirected through her normal primary healthcare pathway was a much better choice than taking her to the emergency room.
Heck, since there turned out to be no adverse results to this, and since the patient was probably on Medicare, I would surmise that I’ve ended up saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars in unneccesary costs… Huh? Can educating and empowering paramedics “save” the healthcare system in the US by creating a huge savings in the most expensive form of providing healthcare?
What do you think? Did I do good?