NC medics: Policy of tracking time on calls puts patients at risk

Medics say they are practicing “fast-food medicine” and may cut corners and drive faster to meet a goal of 70 minutes per call

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Paramedics say a new policy that tracks how much time they’re spending on calls may be putting patient care at risk.

Last summer Mecklenburg EMS Agency (MEDIC) added a point system where employees are evaluated based on the total time it takes for each call, reports. 

The points are a calculation of the time it takes to arrive on scene, treat and transport a patient and then be ready for the next 911 call. Medics, who asked to remain anonymous and have their faces and voices disguised, said the policy pushes them to work too fast, they’re feeling pressured by the constant clock.

“It’s always in the back of your mind, running,” a MEDIC employee said.

"You kind of have to practice fast-food medicine to turn a call and get back out on the street," another paramedic said.

MEDIC Deputy Director Jeff Keith said keeping track of total time on calls is crucial to staffing and the agency’s budget. There is a 70-minute goal for each goal, but if employees work faster they earn more points on their evaluations.

“If you’re really exceptional, and you’re doing 60 minutes or less, that is truly exceptional,” Keith told “That’s worth five points.”

The desire to work faster in order to earn more points on employee evaluations —- which impact pay raise eligibility —- may lead to cutting corners and risking both provider and patient safety, a paramedic said.  

“(It could mean) cutting corners in care, cutting corners in charting, speeding to get to calls, speeding from the scene to the hospital when it’s not necessary,” he said.

Out of medics’ control

Wake County (N.C) EMS, which covers a comparable population to MEDIC’s Mecklenburg, doesn’t track time on calls because it’s out EMS provider’s control.

“You may be a block away from a call, or you may be three to four miles in heavy, heavy traffic in a driving rainstorm,” said Jeffrey Hammerstein, Wake County chief of community outreach.

Keith said MEDIC’s average time on calls is 65 minutes, and the agency has no plans to change the policy.


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