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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

The National EMS Assessment: Where do we go from here?

Old medical axiom: "You can't find a fever unless you take a temperature"

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: The National EMS Assessment is a landmark document that offers a unique snapshot on the condition of EMS in the United States. Art Hsieh gives his impressions below.

This report is a crucial development in our understanding of emergency medical services in the Untied States. While most of us know what happens in our systems locally, it becomes a futile exercise in trying to compare apples to apples without a baseline to work from.

National level reports such as these provide key pieces of information about our industry and provides a basis to consider where we go from here.

I'm frustrated that it's taken this long to create such a document, but I recognize the complexity of the disparate data sources and the lack of cohesion and consistency among our states.

If anything, the report is yet another indicator of how little attention is paid by government to what would seem to be an essential service, expected by the public to be available and ready to respond 24/7.

The document is huge — 550 pages. I found some interesting factoids:

  • There are an estimated 826,000 licensed, credentialed EMS providers nationwide. Previous estimates ranged from 750,000 to more than 1 million.
  • Nearly 20,000 accredited EMS agencies exist, recording 36.7 million calls for service in 2009. Twenty-eight million transports were provided, almost 75 percent of the total responses.
  • Only one state monitors on the job injuries for EMS workers.
  • Only 18 states collect data about EMS fatalities.
  • Only 11 states monitor EMS vehicle crash data.

In the executive summary, the panel makes it clear that we have a long way to go in understanding how EMS is provided, and how it functions.

It is clear that it is highly variable, as most of us suspected. I find this surprisingly heartening, rather than depressing.

There are opportunities to refine, even redefine what we do as a profession, based on this preliminary report.

I for one would like to see us evolve beyond the "You call, we haul, that's all" mentality.

We have the baseline training, expertise and motivation to provide an even larger medical safety net to our communities. What do you think?

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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