Why better data will take EMS to the next level

A NASEMSO initiative to develop EMS performance measures can lead to increased funding and improved patient outcomes


A national, two-year project to led in part by NASEMSO to collect health care data for the purpose of creating EMS performance measures, is yet another indicator that the industry is coming of age.

While we have been trying to measure system performance for years, it has been inconsistent and inaccurate. We still don’t know the exact number of certified or licensed EMS providers across the United States, nor do we know how many are injured or killed. Other information we don't know includes:

  • The number of strokes we identify and transport to a stroke center.
  • STEMI patients whose outcomes improve due to timely intervention and transport.
  • The number of CHF patients receiving CPAP.

You might imagine that this information should be easy to find. It isn’t.

Data is an elusive beast to track down reliably and accurately. Over the years, groups of hardworking professionals have created data-collection templates in specific areas of practice, such as the Utstein model and CARES for cardiac arrest and trauma registries. Systems collect data on response times and call types. States have worked to collect data points on aspirin administration and trauma destination decisions.

The National EMS Information System has been trying to aggregate all of this information for years. Along the way, data entry errors, incomplete data, and inconsistent definitions of data points has made it difficult to compare apples to apples — in some cases it’s been more like trying to compare apples to automobiles.

Why is this so important?

Wherever the data points to as the source of a problem, resources will follow and outcomes will improve. It’s really that simple, and that’s the goal.

While keeping things the same is comfortable and easy, making difficult changes in practice and habits make sense when the data supports it. It clarifies what we think is going on and what actually is going on. Of course, we might debate the meaning or underlying cause of the data, but we can’t begin to have a legitimate conversation without it.

At the end of the day, EMS must recognize that data is important. If your state participates in the NEMSIS project, what you record will contribute to the body of knowledge that is EMS field care. It will affect what I do here, and the work of 800,000 EMS providers spread across the country. 

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