This is another in my series of posts that you may send as a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and/or put in for publication on your site to use my words to help spread the message of EMS week. You may use this freely, but please keep it intact.
Barely given a passing thought until the unthinkable happens, the emergency medical services (EMS) are always there, toiling in relative obscurity until the flashing lights and wailing sirens of an ambulance remind you that there are indeed paramedics out there waiting for your call. People don’t tend to think of the ambulance service that cares for them and their loved ones as an essential service. They also rarely think much about them when they aren’t in need of their care. Usually then it’s only to wonder “What is taking them so long!?” instead of wondering if they’re currently bogged down with a lack of resources due to funding constraints and/or abuse of the emergency healthcare system.
Ambulances are a part of every community in one form or another and the US certainly has one of the best EMS systems the world has ever seen. Highly trained paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) have progressed far past what the public perception of them tends to be and instead of being there only to provide a quick lights-and-sirens rush to the hospital, today’s ambulance is a ‘Mobile Intensive Care Unit’ that can roughly provide care equivalent to the first hour or so of care in the Emergency Room. The focus has long shifted from bringing the patient to care and now focuses on bringing care to the patient. While there are a few conditions that warrant immediate evaluation and treatment by a physician there are many more that benefit from immediate stabilization in the field provided by a paramedic or EMT. In fact, the care provided in the first few minutes of symptom onset by a paramedic can make the difference between a ‘bump-in-the-road’ for your health and long-term morbidity and lasting ill effects.
Think of a paramedic as Emergency Healthcare Specialists focused on the Acute, or care of the “Here and Now”. If it’s happening to you and it’s going to harm or even kill you, chances are that a paramedic can step in and make a big difference in the progression of the disease process. They may not be able to cure you, but they can make a good deal of difference in terms of stabilization and in limiting the long-term harm that you suffer.
Even in the United States, and perhaps especially here in the US, there is variability in the level of care and service provided by ambulance services. Each state has their own individual licensing requirements and the level of authority on those licenses varies greatly due to local control within those states. All paramedics and EMTs function under the ultimate authority of a Licensed Physician to provide “Medical Control” and a system of standing medical orders or “protocols” that the paramedics and EMTs use their medical judgment to pick and choose from based upon their working field diagnosis of a patient’s condition. In my home state of Illinois, the medical direction has provided what some EMS personnel would consider to be conservative protocols while just across the state line in Wisconsin the protocols allow much more breadth in the abilities of the paramedic and EMT to care for the patient. These differences can be caused by myriad factors ranging from the personal prerogative of the medical control physician, to local political pressures, and even to distance to a hospital emergency room. The way that a service is configured also plays a roll, with some private ambulance services having experience in “Critical Care” paramedicine, and some Fire Department based providers focusing on short transport times. Within the industry, there is much debate on the topic of what organizational configuration, Fire-Based, Hospital-Based, Private-for-profit, Private-Not-For-Profit, Governmental Third Service, or otherwise provides for the best operational effectiveness and therefore the best patient care. While the opinions have run very high, it is clear that no one solution will work for every community. The public does need to be aware that EMS is not simply a function of “The Fire Department” or “the hospital” or of anything other than EMS itself existing to provide optimal patient care. The terms “Firefighter” and “Paramedic” are no more synonymous than are “Garbageman” and “Librarian”. The importance is that Paramedics and EMTs focus on healthcare and providing the best quality EMS. However some communities have chosen to combine the functions for a perceived cost savings. You should explore the issue in your own community to see what best works.
And that’s the important part.
EMS is in desperate need of public involvement. We are in desperate need of the public giving us more than a passing thought and actively taking an interest in how EMS is able to care for them and in their own healthcare. For too long, EMS and the Profession of Paramedicine have gone unnoticed. We’ve been suffering from public apathy as acutely as our patients suffer from heart attacks and strokes. Now perhaps more than ever, we need you to help us. We have to raise public awareness and work with our communities to provide the best possible service and the best possible patient outcomes.
Within the industry, there have emerged a few powerful ideas that could have far reaching impact not only upon EMS, but upon the entire healthcare system. Loosely entitled “EMS 2.0”, the ideas have come forth from street-level paramedics and EMTs and represent a “reboot” of the entire spectrum of how we do our work. Imagine if a few regulatory and educational changes could save billions in overall healthcare costs. Imagine if paramedics could improve access to primary healthcare for millions of underserved citizens catching and screening out serious disease before they even result in an acute emergency. It would be game changing, and it has a very real possibility of happening if the public would pay attention to us. It’s your future we’re trying to improve. It’s your health that motivates us to get out of bed at all hours to care for you. By your taking an interest in what we have to say, you could improve the health of your community many times over.
Here’s what you can do. First off, speak with your local EMS provider to see what their immediate needs are. In many communities, EMS is understaffed and underfunded. When was the last time you saw your community’s public works or police departments holding a bake sale to raise operational funds or to buy a new bulldozer or ammunition? Fire departments and EMS agencies do it all the time. Learn about how EMS is provided in surrounding communities and in communities of like size in your state and region. Talk with your healthcare providers and community leaders to ensure that their commitments to EMS reflect the lifesaving importance of EMS care. Local politics kill quality in EMS, communities need to tell their politicians to stop petty squabbles and focus on what is truly important. Learn the issues and listen to the people out on the street providing care.
Another good resource for the public to learn about EMS is to look at industry-specific information provided in the trade journals, online sites, and the EMS blogosphere. Whatever the local flavor of EMS that has developed in your community may be, there may be a better option out there. In fact, there probably is a better way and community members need to demand these better ways from their local EMS service or find, expose, and change local political factors that keep new and more efficient operations away from their local service. Medicine changes, so do best practices, and the public needs to demand the best from their EMS providers. Learn what the best truly is. In discussions with local politicos, scare tactics tend to run the argument. Educate yourself on the issues so that you can make the best possible decisions for your EMS providers and for your community.
For more information:
Http://www.JEMS.com – The Journal of Emergency Medical Services
Http://www.EMSresponder.com – EMS Magazine
Http://www.LifeUnderTheLights.com – The Author of this articles industry-specific EMS blog
Http://www.ChroniclesOfEMS.com – A new television show and videocast being produced by street Paramedics trying to explore EMS in an entertaining and informative way. This could be considered the “Face of EMS 2.0”
The author, Chris Kaiser, is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic licensed in multiple states. He has been providing EMS for over a decade and is a writer and speaker on EMS issues. More from Chris can be found at Http://www.LifeUnderTheLights.com