Promoting transparency and accountability with BWCs
Establishing clear policies, protocols and building trust: PCHD EMS shares their body-worn cameras implementation journey
The demand for transparency and accountability is growing throughout the healthcare industry, and EMS agencies are exploring new ways to improve their operations accordingly. At Parker County Hospital District EMS (PCHD), in Weatherford, Texas, we’re committed to enhancing the quality of our services and the protection of our staff, which is why we took almost 2 years to carefully consider and ultimately adopt body-worn cameras (BWCs) v. PCHD EMS is the 911 Provider for Parker County, Texas, with a service area of 910 square miles, operating 12 ambulances staffed with dual paramedics responding to about 16,000 calls for service annually.
The reality is that we’re already being recorded, but bystander footage often fails to capture the whole story. BWCs provide a point-of-view record of the entire event, offering a more comprehensive account of incidents that can help our EMS team improve their procedures and learn from mistakes.
If you look at law enforcement, BWCs have been invaluable. Every police academy nationwide watches BWC footage and breaks down the videos for training. You can watch critical events unfold and learn from the things that went well and the things that went wrong. These recordings have undoubtedly saved numerous lives.
Why not apply the same approach that law enforcement has taken with BWCs to EMS? I believe that it’s often because of fear that many EMS leaders are reluctant to embrace the technology. They may be concerned about breaching HIPAA regulations or the potential for litigation. Yet, it’s essential to acknowledge that mistakes will happen on EMS calls regardless of whether or not they are recorded on video. By implementing BWCs, we can learn from our mistakes and enhance our procedures to prevent future errors, improving the safety and care for our patients.
BWC implementation considerations
Cameras in EMS are still relatively new and controversial. We chose Axon because they have worked with other fire departments and EMS services across our state and have a proven product with advanced technology.
When we started exploring the idea of adding BWCs, we talked to our staff about it and let them know why. As expected, not everyone was excited. It will take a few months for some to see that management will not critique every video frame by frame. We don't want our people to be robots because they're being recorded. We want them to remain empathetic and compassionate while performing their duties, while knowing that they have the support of the technology if an altercation arises.
Our agency will be providing training to our staff on how to handle different situations that may occur due to the presence of cameras, and what appropriate responses are required. Since the BWC program is new to everyone in the organization, our policy is subject to change in the coming months.
Measuring the value of BWC is challenging, as it’s tough to identify the actions or interactions that don’t occur because of the BWC. After having the cameras deployed for six months, we’re planning to survey our staff to see how the technology has impacted factors like the delivery of care, patient satisfaction and employee morale. PCHD will continue to gather and analyze data to improve our operations and better meet the needs of our patients.
Overall, the decision to implement BWCs should always be taken responsibly with a thoughtful approach towards training and communication, establishing clear policies and protocols for their use, and building trust with both the staff and the public. With this in mind, implementing BWCs can be a helpful step towards promoting transparency and accountability in healthcare, improving the standard of care for patients, and providing better protection and support for EMS service providers.
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