Top 10 apps to make you a better EMT

Whether it’s navigating a pediatric resuscitation or to the ED entrance that’s blocks away from a hospital’s posted address, these apps should be on every EMT’s smartphone


“What are you doing over there? You’ve always got your nose buried in your phone.”

“I’m reading ‘The Advanced Ventilator Book’ by William Owens,” I answered truthfully. “I’m trying to fill some professional knowledge gaps.”

“Bull crap,” Nancy snorted. “Are you arguing with idiots on Facebook again? You promised me you wouldn’t engage people on those EMS pages any longer. You know what that does to your attitude,” she warns.  Her eyes narrow in suspicion, and she shakes her finger at me accusingly. “You’re playing Panda Pop again, aren’t you?”

“Seriously, I’m just reading my Kindle. This is professional development, I swear.”

“Oh, it’s ‘professional development,’” she rolls her eyes, making finger quotes around the words. “I swear, if you make any more in-app purchases ... ”

She needn’t have worried. I had long ago ceased pressure testing my cerebral arteries by reading EMS comments on Facebook, and once she handed me a month’s tally of how much I had spent a dollar at a time getting to the next level on whatever game I was playing, I vowed to turn off in-app purchases for all my smartphone games. I really was reading about ventilator strategies on my day off, which should establish my EMS geek street cred with anyone who matters.

Back in 2015, I listed the top 10 books that should be in every EMT’s library, but given that it was six years ago, when the average career span of an EMT was only five years, a substantial percentage of the EMS workforce had never read it. Those who read it now would likely chide me for recommending information in an antiquated dead-tree format that hastens the deforestation of our planet.

With that in mind, I give you the totally subjective, non-scientific and far-from-comprehensive list of top 10 apps that should be on every EMT’s smartphone. In no particular order, they are:

Image/Kindle app
Image/Kindle app

1. Kindle app or another e-reader for smartphones

My first partner used to carry a monstrous backpack full of EMS textbooks and trashy romance novels to work with her, and she’d munch baby carrots and read while we were at post. If the last call went well, she’d curl up in the driver’s seat and read a steamy page-turner, and if the call went poorly, she’d obsessively read her old textbooks and beat herself up over imagined mistakes. Today, I can carry the equivalent of hundreds of books on an iPhone or Kindle Fire that fits in my pocket, and I can read them in the dark. Whether it’s reading about ventilator strategies from the aforementioned William Owens, or devouring the latest Monster Hunter novel by Larry Correia, a good e-reader app can make those long, boring hours posting on street corners tolerable.

Image/Care to Translate app
Image/Care to Translate app

2. A good language translator app

Go to pretty much any industrialized nation besides ours, and you’ll find that most of the citizens are at least bilingual, with many speaking multiple languages. The United States is an anomaly in that so many of our citizens speak only English, and a good many of them haven’t even mastered our native tongue. Even if you never plan on leaving the United States, you’ll encounter plenty of immigrants or tourists who cannot speak English well, and the frequency of those encounters will only increase. The app I use is Care to Translate, a digital translator app tailored to medical professionals. The app features multiple scripts covering a wide variety of medical questions for various specialties. Using it spares me the embarrassment of asking history questions like, “Hello, your name is Kelly, and there is my wife, Doug. Does my chest hurt when you breathe?”

3. The Emergency Response Guidebook

With this app, you never again will have to fumble through the console storage or glove compartment of your ambulance for that ubiquitous yellow book that tells us how to identify and protect ourselves from whatever methyl-ethyl bad stuff is leaking out of overturned truck at the intersection. If you’ve ever been unable to find your ERG on a hazmat scene, the WISER app makes a good complement.

Image/OmniMedix Medical Calculator app
Image/OmniMedix Medical Calculator app

4. A good medical calculator or conversion app

The OmniMedix Medical Calculator is one I use frequently. It features a simple user interface and commonly used medical formulas covering everything from weight and temperature conversions, to ABG interpretation, to pediatric vital signs and equipment sizes by age. MDCalc Medical Calculator features a host of formulas and calculations not commonly used in the prehospital setting, but useful nonetheless. I use it frequently to calculate tidal volumes and ideal endotracheal tube depth in my ventilator patients, and as a SIRS and qSOFA reference for suspected sepsis.

5. Oxygen tank duration

Ever wonder, “Will this oxygen tank last me until I can get this patient downstairs/through the duration of this trip/through the rest of this shift, since I forgot to check the oxygen tank at shift change and now we’re posted in Timbuktu?” Well, an app can take the guesswork out of it. O2 Duration has a very simple user interface and can calculate oxygen tank duration by inputting tank pressure, liter flow and tank size.  The Oxygen Planner app has a significantly more complicated user interface, but offers more versatility in choosing supply sources and delivery systems. 

6. Medical reference app

Epocrates has long set the standard for medical reference apps, and even the free version features a host of information and resources, from pill identifiers to treatment guidelines. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine also offers a smartphone version of their excellent medical reference, and WikEM is an excellent emergency medicine-specific reference.

Image/PediSTAT app
Image/PediSTAT app

7. A pediatric emergency medical reference

If you have to do math in the middle of a pediatric resuscitation, you’re already off to a bad start. Whenever possible, you should use a cheat sheet rather than stand on the quicksand of memory. In school, your teacher may have considered it cheating, but in EMS we call it cognitive off-loading, and it’s a good thing. PediSTAT is just the sort of cheat sheet to make your next pediatric emergency not so daunting.

8. A good podcast or streaming app

Does your partner hog the radio? Are you force-fed a steady diet of conspiracy theory radio or music you hate? The put in those earbuds, bud, and listen to the latest medical and EMS podcasts. The folks at EM:RAP have an app for listening to their excellent podcast and CE content, and you can listen to podcasts like FOAMFrat or Inside EMS on Apple Music, Spotify, PodBean or SoundCloud.

Image/Waze app
Image/Waze app

9. A good navigation app

If you’ve been in EMS for more than five minutes, you have discovered that a major hospital’s ambulance entrance and the hospital’s official address may be blocks apart and hidden by construction barriers or artfully manicured shrubbery. The navigation app in my agency’s dispatch system is notorious for being unable to recalculate routes on the fly, or only giving turn directions about a hundred feet after you’ve passed the exit. With Waze or Apple Maps, I can mark our designated posting locations or the actual location of the ambulance entrance at St. Unfamiliar Medical Center, as opposed to the published address. Sometimes the difference between the two is several blocks.

10. A good EMS or critical care pocket guide

At this point in my career, they’re more lucky rabbit’s foot than reference source, but I still find myself occasionally looking something up on the Critical Medical Guide or the Emergency and Critical Care Guide. Much like a fire extinguisher, they’re rarely needed, but on rare occasions, you’re really thankful you had it.

Most of these guides are free, and the most expensive among them is only $14.99. Try them on your smartphone, and see if they don’t make work a little easier. Enjoy!

What did we miss? Share the apps that make you a better EMT in the comments below.

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