Avoid a lawsuit with these 7 public expectations of EMS

If you can meet these expectations of the public 100 percent of the time, your agency will deliver outstanding care and stay out of court


We’ve represented hundreds of EMS agencies and ambulance services of all types and sizes as a national EMS law firm. Early in our more than 15 years practicing EMS law, we quickly realized that most complaints and lawsuits are based on failing to meet the fundamental expectations of the public and the patient.

Ninety-five percent of all complaints and lawsuits that we’ve seen are based on failures in just seven key areas where the public (and most importantly the patient) expect us to “get it right” every single time. Failure to meet one of these seven expectations can lead to huge liability for your agency. And the sad part is that most of the failures are the result of poor attitudes of the personnel involved, demonstrated by “bad behavior” and simply not paying attention to the job.

Be nice to people, treat them with empathy, respect and dignity, and strive to meet the seven expectations of the public 100 percent of the time. Remember, you are only one call away from a $10 million jury verdict! Here are the seven expectations of the public we must always meet:

1. We will respond promptly

We will take the steps to get out the door quickly to efficiently respond to the call. We will arrive and “move with a purpose” – acting like we want to get to where we are going – as evidenced by our brisk step and making sure we carry in all equipment that might be needed. Not just the clipboard.

This does not mean racing to the scene and killing someone in the process of getting there. As we all know, there are only a few instances where reducing response time by seconds or minutes will save lives. Speed is likely to do more harm than good.   

2. We won’t get lost  

Make sure you know where you are going and that you take the most direct route to get there. We look foolish when we don’t know our service area and our response is delayed unnecessarily. If you can’t find the location promptly, immediately call dispatch and seek assistance.

3. We will arrive with vehicles and equipment that actually works

That means we check our equipment regularly and maintain it. There is no excuse for dead defibrillator batteries, empty oxygen D-cylinders, or poorly maintained vehicles that catastrophically fail.

And just because the last crew did not use the equipment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it! We’ve defended ambulance services who have had catastrophic failures where patients were harmed as a result of the failure. The root causes of these failures were easily preventable. There is no excuse for not checking all the equipment at the start of the shift.  

4. We will provide competent and compassionate care that is well documented

Yes, we have to be competent in all the technical patient care skills – that is a given. But since much of what we do in the field is to hold hands and provide “psychological comfort” for our patients, we must communicate effectively and compassionately. We must treat all patients as if the patient was our own loved one. And we must document the care we provide honestly, accurately, and completely. Documentation is, in fact, an essential part of providing professional health care – it is not just a “necessary evil.”

5. We won’t drop the patient  

You’d be surprised how many times we’ve dealt with this type of lawsuit. And the sad part is that in most cases the cause of the “dropped patient” was not a failure of the stretcher, but a failure of the people. Like the EMT who had one hand on the stretcher and the other hand on his cell phone, talking to his girlfriend. Really? He didn’t see the crack in the sidewalk and the stretcher tipped. The fall and serious injuries that resulted were due to his lack of attention, distraction and not putting the patient first – a dismal failure in meeting a fundamental expectation.   

6. We won’t crash the ambulance  

When a patient gets into an ambulance they expect that they will arrive at the destination safely. The patient also expects the people driving the ambulance are trained professionals who are safe and conscientious drivers. We transport precious cargo – human lives. We should always drive with due regard for the safety of others, avoiding distractions and staying focused on safe operations at all times.

Do you enforce a policy that prohibits any extraneous conversation, use of smartphones and other distractors that can interfere with meeting this fundamental expectation? If not, you should.   

7. We won’t rip off the patient or rip off those who pay us  

We are placed in a position of trust – we are in their homes in the middle of the night when they are the most vulnerable, with their lives and possessions openly exposed to us. We should never take advantage of the patient by stealing from them.

We should also respect that we should only get paid for the legitimate services we have provided. We should never submit claims for payment unless all the payment requirements for the payer are met – never falsifying or misrepresenting a patient condition to get reimbursement that we are not legally entitled to receive.

It is simple stuff, really and only requires using common sense. But sometimes common sense is not so common – unfortunately. And most of the time, failure to meet one of these seven fundamental expectations occurs because of bad attitudes in EMS providers and EMS leaders.

It is everyone’s job – and a professional responsibility – to pay attention to meeting these seven expectations 100 percent of the time. The result of meeting these expectations will be excellent patient care, high levels of customer satisfaction, good documentation of the care provided – and ultimately no complaints or lawsuits. And yes, you should remind your personnel of these seven fundamental expectations of the public every day. That helps keep everyone focused on the things that really are important.

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