So I saw this picture on Facebook today (Warning: There are some mild swear words in this picture you’re already seeing so I’m warning you that this warning is moot)
Don’t believe this picture.
I’ve read somewhere that people will believe anything they read from a picture with words on it they see on the Internet. While I need to capitalize on that to promote a few business ideas I have, I don’t want you to believe what you read in that picture. Just don’t. It’s not healthy for you and it’s not healthy for our profession. In fact, this kind of belief is precisely one of the problems that we’re trying to fix with this whole EMS 2.0 thing, and providers who look at patients as being not worth their time are holding us back.
So if you believe that above meme, stop it. Just stop it now. You’re burning yourself out and discounting a lot of human beings who are legitimately asking you for your help. The point of our existence is to help all who ask for it, not to judge anyone who dares to rouse us from our beds at 3am or who happens to have a complaint that we feel is beneath us. Help everyone, judge no one.
I’ve been on an ambulance for 16 years or so, and in that time I’ve responded to a lot of people who didn’t necessarily need an ambulance. I’ve even responded to a handful of people who didn’t need anything at all, but simply called for some very-much unrelated reason but I assure you that out of the thousands upon thousands of calls I’ve responded to these people are a small, insignificant minority. Most people who call an ambulance have some type of legitimate need for some kind of help and I believe that our frustration as providers comes from people who need types of health that we’re not prepared to, nor allowed to, provide for them.
My estimation is that 80% to 90% of all calls to EMS are for primary care problems that are really exacerbations of chronic conditions. I’d wager that more than half of these patients could have avoided being in need of emergency care by being able to better manage their chronic condition and by working through their primary healthcare channels. However, what are we doing for them? There are plenty of these patients who had very good reasons for not-being able to cope with their individual healthcare challenge. There are many good reasons for failing to be able to navigate the complex labyrinth of twists and turns that is our contemporary healthcare system and sometimes it just gets too much for people to handle on their own. Also, sometimes it isn’t their fault as their doctors offices and the healthcare system fails them by letting them fall through the cracks.
Sometimes calling 911 is their only option. Have you ever tried to get healthcare when you don’t have insurance? It’s terrifyingly expensive. Have you ever tried to get a primary care physician when you’re uninsured? It’s nearly impossible. Most urgent care clinics don’t take public aid and the only system that will treat people who are uninsured or are covered by the public system is the Emergency Room and the Ambulance service. We’re called the “Safety Net” for a reason.
I’m telling you not to believe the above picture because the overwhelmingly vast majority of people who call us for less-than life-threatening reasons aren’t bullshit human beings. They’re people who need help. Sure, there are some people who we may view as entitled or as other derogative adjectives, but if you were in their shoes and were treated as less-than deserving of care by every healthcare provider who treated you, wouldn’t you be jaded too?
Seriously, give me another option for these people. Oh, and try to think of an option that doesn’t require them to magically become NOT sick and NOT poor. Those things aren’t going away anytime soon.
It is OUR responsibility to find options for these people. It is OUR responsibility to be able to offer them the services they need. It is OUR responsibility to educate them about their options for healthcare and social services when they need it. After all, we’re the professionals, right?
Let the politicians, economists, and philosophers worry about correcting the overarching societal problems. That’s not our job.
Our job is to care, and to do our absolute best to leave every patient we see better off for the experience.
Now go do that.