Thoughts From The Sidelines

After EMS Today last week and dealing with some family medical issues, I have a few thoughts to consider.

  1. EMS is the practice of medicine.  It always has been and always will.  As such, we owe it to our profession and our patients to focus not only what’s cool, trendy, and “sexy,” but that which benefits our patients.  Unless you’re really working in the appropriate setting, put down the Tactical Medicine book and pick up something to learn about lab values, airway management, or sepsis.  Your patients will benefit.
  2. EMS systems used to advertise that EMS is  “more than just a ride to the hospital.”  It’s time to remember that and start treating patients early in the field, if they will benefit from or need that treatment.  The idea of “we’re just five minutes from the ER” is malarkey  (I initially put something stronger in here, by the way).  Except in patients near death, it’s going to be a bit before the emergency department begins treatment.  Things like fluids (where appropriate) and pain management are often quite a ways down the road, even when the ER is five minutes down the road.  Treat your patient.
  3. The old saying “It’s not my emergency” remains true.  But an old piece of advice that I got from a San Marcos police officer still applies.  “To the person who called 911, this is the most important thing that’s happened to them today.”  Respect that as well.
  4. If you’re burnt out, step away.  Whether it’s cutting down on overtime, taking a vacation, or finding a different way to rejuvenate yourself, being burnt out doesn’t serve yourself, your patients, or our profession.

It’s a hell of an honor for the public to trust us to walk into their most private spaces at their most vulnerable moments and trust us to care for them.  Too many of us have forgotten the public trust and care aspects of our profession.  If you have to ask if this applies to you, well, maybe it just does.

Couple of Quick Thoughts

While perusing social media this morning, I noticed a couple of things that bear repeating.  Again.

The same professional EMS committee members are now taking public input on “EMS Agenda 2050.” yet we can’t always even get the core mission of EMS right — namely getting people to a hospital — ideally the right hospital and with the patient in no worse (and hopefully better) condition than we found them. I’d like to fix EMS 2018 before we turn EMS Agenda 2050 into another document forced upon us by the same people who largely created the current mess.

Everyone continues to look for a single silver bullet that will fix EMS.  Education. Increased reimbursement. The latest equipment.  Some buzzword usually involving “data.”  EMS in the United States is a local responsibility provided for in a variety of models.  Imposing and implementing one “magic solution” won’t work.  What works in a compact city like Boston with multiple academic medical centers in a small area isn’t going to apply well to rural Nevada where a small hospital is an hour’s drive.  The reason why our nation’s Founding Fathers embraced federalism is in recognition of the simple truth that one size fits all solutions from a central government rarely work. (See also: IRS, “Affordable Care Act,” and the Post Office.)

The only thing I see more than people in EMS routinely advocating for us to take people to destinations other than hospitals are stories of EMS getting refusals wrong and a patient getting sicker or dying. I say this after seeing, just this week, an article about a child whose parents called EMS to take their child to the ER for the flu, EMS obtaining a refusal, and the child ultimately dying.  Was EMS responsible?  We don’t yet know at this point.  But I do know that taking a patient to definitive care is a large part of what we do.

Most ER physicians will tell you that the hardest decision they make is the decision to admit a patient. That’s coming from a physician with access to labs and imaging and specialist consults. I’m not ready to trust someone with (at most) two years of education, minimal diagnostic equipment, and a short assessment to make the decision that going to the hospital isn’t a good idea.  Yes, there are obvious cases that we can consider “abuse” of the emergency care system. But the lawsuits will result (and they WILL happen) from the patient with vague symptoms who’s relying on the judgment of the lowest common denominator of providers who just wants to get back to their station.

And that brings me to my final thing worth repeating today.  An EMS system is only as good as its worst provider on their worst day.

Feel free to refer back to this post in 2019.  I’m sure it will remain just as relevant.

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