Over the past few years in EMS, we’ve heard a lot about “standardizing” EMS across all fifty states in the US, whether it’s the Institute of Medicine’s report or the recently adopted National EMS Education Standards and Instructional Guidelines. Fair enough. The proverbial Mrs. Smith’s COPD probably won’t be too different between Peoria, Illinois and Peoria, Arizona. Oxygen, breathing treatments, and medications work the same across state lines.
From my perspective as an attorney, paramedic, and occasional EMS educator, one thing that shouldn’t be part of a standardized curriculum is the dreaded medical-legal section. Besides my ongoing pet peeve that medical-legal is the one EMS topic we continue to allow to be taught by the uninformed, we continue to assume that a one-size-fits all approach to medical legal education suffices. Aside from a few Federal law issues (HIPAA, EMTALA, and CLIA most notably), the overwhelming majority of EMS law, particularly the regulatory framework and tort law, is decided by the individual states. Other issues, such as advanced directives and medical direction/protocols are equally dependent on state law.
For aspiring medics to be truly informed on their respective legal issues, the best thing that we could do is to take the following steps. 1) Remove the legal curriculum from being part of a national curriculum. 2) Ensure that the legal principles taught in initial EMS education programs are taught by experts and/or developed by the appropriate state regulatory body. 3) Ensure that any testing on EMS legal principles is done at the state level.
But hey, what do I know? It’s not like I’m a lawyer or anything.