Why lazy and complacent EMS providers need to fear the lawyers

Instead of getting down on lawyers or the profession, let the law protect you from harm while you protect others and redefine professional fun

When I speak or write about how EMS will never be regarded as a true profession until providers unanimously behave like true professionals, let’s just say the pushback is sometimes a bit tough.

When I expound on the fact that a solid provider failing to intervene in the presence of a weak provider creates culpability on both of them, let’s just say that message is also often met with resistance.

The harshest reactions come when I encourage providers and their employers to dump the dead weight; to either remediate or replace those providers who just can’t or won’t get it done.

I find that reaction to be most puzzling; who would advocate for mediocrity?

The three most common complaints

My interactions with EMS providers across the country cover the entire spectrum; some are clients, many are friends, and most are attendees of a lecture I am delivering on an EMS/legal topic. It seems that, no matter which group has my attention, there is a common and growing theme connecting the concerns they voice: Lawyers have ruined EMS. It’s not fun anymore; it has become too (legally) dangerous to be a paramedic these days.

Agreed. But none of it changes the need for high-quality prehospital care delivered by professionals who understand what it takes to provide it.

While much of what I have to say may sound a bit preachy or soapbox-y, I don’t pave the roads; I just drive on them and, although it is me saying it, I didn’t make up the laws. I am merely putting into context what the law says, the same law that will protect you, the same law that will take everything away.

Complaint #1: Lawyers have ruined EMS

Agreed, but not for the reasons you might think.

It’s not actual lawyers. It is the fear of what lawyers might do or say that has created an environment where everyone is looking over their shoulders and second-guessing every action. Worse — that fear has created a degree of hostility toward the job that never used to be there. "We don’t treat patients anymore we treat (expletive) lawyers," is something I heard in a recent class. The fear is manufactured from myth, rumor and speculation; it’s not real.

The reality is that lawyers have not changed EMS, the laws of EMS (as executed by lawyers) has evolved and thus the way we look at EMS has evolved with it. It’s not that there is any more to be afraid of, there’s just more for which paramedics are responsible and with greater responsibility comes greater risk.

Lawyers have not ruined EMS so much as the perception of lawyers has ruined the way EMS providers are programmed. The law is both sword and shield; if you follow it in good faith (policies, protocols, procedures based on the objective findings of a thorough and objective assessment), it will protect you from the myriad of threats that present on any given day. If you cut corners, the very same law that protects you could take away everything from you.

Complaint #2: EMS is not fun anymore

Agreed, EMS is not fun anymore until you redefine fun.

Back in the day, practical jokes, rites of passage and the filterless exchange of ideas were the way of the world. In today’s world, those particular threads that bound providers into families have all but vanished.

However, there is still much that unites provider groups into family-type units. While fear of liability and political correctness have changed the way providers interact, the shared stress, the shared trauma (and drama), and the shared dangers continue to bind providers as they always have — and in a way that no other civilian profession can experience.

Of course, nothing will replace cellophane over a toilet seat for a good belly laugh. I get it. But what if EMS providers found fun in other areas?

Could fun be found in reaching out to the community in new and interesting ways, ways that provide education and support intended to help citizens help themselves before calling 911?

Could fun be found by field providers developing and experimenting with new and creative ways to deliver service? Maybe a different delivery vehicle — bicycle, ATV, snow machine, personal watercraft or motorcycle — will add some fun to EMS.

Could fun be found in either intra- or interagency-friendly skills challenges?

EMS is and can still be plenty of fun for those interested enough to make it so. If, however, you are locked into the notion of what was fun a generation ago, the kind of fun the law now frowns upon, then you are in for an uncomfortable ride that will not likely end well.

Complaint #3: EMS has become too (legally) dangerous

Agreed, unless you do what you are supposed to do the way you are supposed to do it.

The notion that EMS has become too legally dangerous is a myth perpetrated by the lazy and the complacent.

It’s true that, now more than ever, EMS providers accept tremendous responsibility, which brings an equally tremendous degree of liability. However, the laws of EMS that have evolved to create more significant liability issues are the very same that will protect you if you follow them.

Much like swimming with sharks, if you know what you are doing and you take full advantage of every available safety mechanism, it’s a virtually harmless activity — and quite exciting.

The bottom line

Providers who practice EMS for the love of EMS have little to fear from lawyers and the law. The providers who are lazy, complacent or in EMS for the wrong reasons have plenty to fear and should seriously rethink what they are doing and why.

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