Health care may change, but EMT's dedication to the job will not

Nonemergency demands have taken over and reimbursement is a constant struggle, but we will continue to act as a professional, compassionate safety net for this country's ailing health care system

It's National Emergency Medical Services Week. This year's theme of "EMS: Dedicated. For Life." had me thinking about what we do to protect the health of our communities, and what lies ahead for us as America's health care landscape continues to change.

It's true that EMS providers train long and hard for true medical emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes and severe trauma. EMTs and paramedics have been providing these services since the 1970s, when the federal EMS Act distributed funds so that states could develop medical response systems within their borders.

However, in the decades since then, EMS workers have struggled to continue to provide quality service as nonemergency demands have overtaken the original mission. More Americans became uninsured, making EMS and emergency departments their primary source of health care.

It's fairly routine now for EMS providers to try to figure out how to manage common complaints such as chronic pain, acute intoxication, headaches and common colds. It can be frustrating to deal with these situations since our system of care is to treat emergent conditions, but is often overwhelmed with such cases for emergency department transports.  

Meanwhile, reimbursement for EMS has not kept up with the cost of providing services. Whether it's a municipal service such as a fire department, or a contracted commercial service, any EMS agency will tell you how medical insurance does not pay the bill.

This dismal situation makes this year's theme all that more poignant. We continue to act as a professional, compassionate safety net for this country's ailing health care system. In that role we try to treat all we see with respect and tolerance, although we too are human and not immune to society's weaknesses of bias and stereotype.

There are changes happening in our health care system that have the potential to evolve pre-hospital care. As doctors and hospitals are being held more accountable, allied health professionals like EMTs and paramedics are starting to perform roles that improve the overall health of the patient, such as performing post discharge home visits and transporting nonemergency patients to more appropriate facilities like clinics and urgent care.

These new services are inexpensive to implement, and will save the health care system precious money. I'm proud to be an EMS provider, and I'm looking forward to what the future holds.

Be proud of what you do, everyday. There's no nobler a profession.

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