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Home > Topics > EMS Management
December 28, 2010
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

A deeper look at response times

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: A Parliament member in England accused the coalition government of creating a 'potential lethal time bomb' by axing ambulance responses times. Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh says England's system of health care is different than in the U.S., but even so he is impressed that the folks there are looking on how to improve their ability to manage patients in need of time-sensitive emergency care.

Our colleagues across the pond appear to be doing something about the response time issues that can be punishing to EMS systems, and offensive to a politician in the process.

Rather than using response times as the primary indicator of quality service, management leaders at the UK national health system (NHS) are proposing to stratify the lower priority calls for EMS according to a variety of indicators.

England's system of health care is different from what we have here in the United States, and how the ambulance service is organized and run is probably different too. Yet I can't help but be impressed that the folks there are looking on how to improve their ability to manage patients in need of time-sensitive emergency care and transport by focusing on the lower-urgency incidents.

What the article doesn't comment on is whether the lowest priority calls are triaged out of the emergency system entirely, if those patients might be transported via other means, or if ambulances transport the patients to nonurgent care centers.

Without moving those patients somewhere, there may be the potential for just simply moving the backlog of requests further back into the timeline. Unfortunately the article doesn't provide any information in that area of the system.

EMS systems are complex. Many systems worldwide are experiencing major challenges in providing excellent service. There is no single magic bullet to improve a system; it will take a multidisciplinary approach to make long lasting changes that truly benefit patient care while maintaining efficiency. Looking at response times and doing something about them is one good step in that direction.

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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