Why Rhode Island is Getting It Right

Why Rhode Island is Getting It Right

Apr 24, 2017

As I said in last week’s article about Bob Harper, I am kind of playing catch up with a lot of topics, this being one of them.  In late 2016, the State of Rhode Island announced publicly that on March 1 of this year, there would be a significant protocol change to their cardiac arrest protocols.  Crews would be expected to remain on scene for 30 minutes prior to being transported. Topically, I applaud Rhode Island’s Department of Health for being as public and transparent as they were about this change.  Anybody who has been in the field for even a modest amount of time has been on a scene where they were asked “why aren’t you just taking them to the hospital?”  In some cases, there is some merit to that.  In some cases there is very little that we as paramedics and EMTs can do for a patient on a scene.  Cardiac arrest is not one of those emergencies. I saw some pushback online from some who consider themselves experts on the topic, but that’s neither here nor there.  One common complaint that I saw revolved around scene safety.  Obviously, scene safety trumps all.  If I am coding someone in the middle of a street with an aggressive or growing crowd, I am going to think about moving.  But on these calls are the exception to the rule, and on the vast majority of runs, even in the worst areas of someone’s coverage area, communication with families goes a long way. “We are doing everything for them right here that they would get in the emergency room.  It is their best chance to survive.”  That’s the common statement that I have made a number of times to families of patients in cardiac arrest. Maybe those dissenters failed to read the protocol, it states “Regardless of proximity to a receiving facility, absent concern for provider safety, or traumatic etiology for cardiac arrest, resuscitation should occur at the location the patient is found.”  Emphasis is mine.  Most of the write ups that I read from the online blogging community were written on or around the month of December.  It is certainly possible that the...

Let’s Talk About Delivery

I wanted to follow up on my reply to Councilman John Bendel’s letter to the editor in the Asbury Park Press a little bit and talk about delivery and goals.  Realistically, regardless of what sort of department an EMT or paramedic works for, their goal should be the same.  We should be aiming to reduce morbidity and mortality of the conditions that we can directly impact and for those that we cannot have lasting impact on in the prehospital setting, we should aim to deliver them to a place where they can get treatment while doing everything that we can in our time with him to promote a favorable outcome in our limited time with the patient. Too often, when debating about what delivery method works best, we get caught up in the weeds of the minor details that have a greater impact on the provider than the patient.  We worry about the training that we must do and the time that it takes, or the unproven theory that people serving their own community has a greater impact on patient outcome than the ability of the provider.  We get hung up on the importance of response times when they have less to do with patient outcome than care provided in most cases. In Bendel’s letter, he touched on the fact that “MONOC can probably tell us how many lives were saved because a highly qualified EMT was on calls.  But no one can tell us how many lives were saved because a local squad got people to the hospital faster than MONOC would have.”  He’s probably right, but we need to ask ourselves why this is.  With a call volume that is often a fraction of what MONOC runs, why can’t volunteer squads better report their impact on patient outcomes?  I think that the answer to this is twofold. First, most squads probably do not possess the outcome data that a company that MONOC has access to.  That is partially the fault of the system for not including volunteer services in this feedback loop, and partially on the squads for not seeking it out, and creating the infrastructure within their organization to acquire it....

Fact Checking the EMSCNJ

Fact Checking the EMSCNJ

Apr 17, 2017

Read my Open Letter to Mr John Bendel here. For today’s post, we are going to continue to analyze the saga of the Asbury Park Press editorial battle regarding EMS in New Jersey.  The EMS Council of New Jersey has sounded off.  Last week on April 10th, the EMSCNJ’s president, one Mr. Joseph G Walsh, wrote a letter of his own in order to, as he puts it, “correct several points.”  So let’s fact check some of Mr. Walsh’s statements, and dig deeper into what the EMSCNJ has said in the past. “Paid or volunteer, every New Jersey EMT must pass the same certification exam. Volunteers conduct monthly drills, and education and skills sessions to stay current. The misleading editorial might have panicked some readers into falsely thinking their local volunteer squads are not staffed with properly trained responders.” It is true, indeed, that every EMT must pass the same certification exam.  So what?  I would dare to say that the ability to study and regurgitate information from a textbook is not the be-all-end-all in evaluating one’s effectiveness as an EMT.  I have worked with great EMTs, and I have worked with people who could not be trusted to work on a crew of two because they lacked the ability that they needed to take the knowledge in their head and apply it in a real-life practical setting.  They all had one thing in common though, they passed the same test. Then there is the other statement that Mr. Walsh makes here about proper staffing.  While all EMTs take the same test, that fact alone does not mean that every person operating on a volunteer ambulance in New Jersey is a certified EMT.  In actuality, many responders might just be certified at a lesser level.  How do I know this?  Mr. Walsh tells us. “Every one of our member squads is required to respond to calls with at least one EMT who remains with the patient. On many calls, two or more EMTs respond. The EMS Council of New Jersey (EMSCNJ) is unaware of any squad — member or nonmember — answering calls without such trained responders.” Currently, when a paid or career ambulance...

A Reply to Mr. Bendel and I

A Reply to Mr. Bendel and I

Apr 13, 2017

  I am happy to share with everyone that Mr. Bendel has seen and read the post from earlier this week.  I look forward to speaking with him in the future. The issue with BLS care in New Jersey has never and will never be about passion.  It’s about training.  Every good EMT needs to possess a balance of passion, compassion, medical knowledge, and the ability to apply that knowledge.  I am happy to say that I come from a family that possesses those values.  I have two parents who both had lengthy careers as volunteer EMTs.  After reading my letter to Mr. Bendel, my mom, Karen Kier, decided to share some of her thoughts about what it means to be a small town EMT.  What you will read below are her thoughts, from the heart. Mr. Bendel and MedicSBK: First off, EMS is one of the defining aspects of my life. To go one step further, EMS in Island Heights (where you both either currently or have formerly resided) creates this passion.  It’s a passion both for the profession and for the people I so dearly cared for during my 22-year career as an EMT on the Island Heights First Aid Squad. MedicSBK, you, above all, should know this about me.  I watched you closely (and protectively at first) as your skills developed – and then we switched roles.  I knew that you were bound for great things – and I proudly watched you fly. I have performed CPR (successfully) on a dear friend, the parents of friends, people I have known and not known . . . and watched others drift away after a devastating stroke.  I have simply and quietly held many hands.  Was it hard?  Yes.  But it would have been harder not to have been there. I like to believe that with few exceptions I brought this same compassion to all of my calls, whether in Island Heights or in one of our neighboring communities.  In my own simple, naïve way I can only hope that this is something that permeates the entire profession. For personal reasons I have made the decision not to renew my EMT certification –...

The Diesel Bolus

My name is Scott, and I’ve made mistakes. There. I said it. The medical world is one where we strive for perfection. That seems to be multiplied ten fold in the world of EMS. We expect ourselves to be perfect. We expect ourselves to be better than nurses and sometimes doctors as we stand back and watch residents and attendings make mistakes that we feel we are immune to making. We can point them out or cite the newest evidence but for some reason when it comes to our own industry, we are prohibited from pointing out those same mistakes. Some think that in the absence of protocol or knowledge, a good ol’ diesel bolus is the answer and should continue to be the answer when reeducation and more training would be far more appropriate. “Do no harm” is significantly different from “no harm was done” and we need to realize that. Just because nothing bad happened does not mean that something good happened. The key to success in this field is learning from the things that don’t quite go as well as they should have. When I hit the streets fifteen and a half years ago I was terrified. I made a lot of mistakes, and when things were not going well my partner’s foot had better be getting heavy. Through the course of my career, I have grown and I’d like to think today that I’m a better paramedic. In all of the intricacies of medicine that I learned, and all of the journal articles I have read the biggest lesson that I have learned is humility and the ability to admit when I was wrong. When things do not go well, the first question that I ask myself, or someone who takes my patient over is “what could I have done better?” how could I have improved my patient’s outcome? Which brings me to my ultimate point in this post. The internet has been on fire lately after a Virginia volunteer fire department was cited for transporting a pediatric seizure patient in the cab of the fire engine instead of providing care and assessment and waiting for a responding ambulance to...

System Abuse

Over the years some great ideas to change how we care for our patients have come from street level providers and their day to day encounters and insight to the challenges that they face.  Others, however, either fall flat on their collective faces or are proven at a larger scale with the use of evidence to be ineffective.  One of the most frequent discussions that comes up on many EMS related internet destinations is the effects of system abuse on our industry.  Some feel that it is the crippling factor that renders urban systems ineffective however I disagree.  While I do not dispute the presence of system abuse, and while these calls might stand out as being memorable, I think that it is less of an issue than we make it out to be in our own heads. But how show we deal with it?  One popular internet author suggested that something needed to be done, but has not present a plausible example of what that should be.  When the concept of increased education for providers to be trained to make non-transport decisions or recommendations for alternative ways of entering a patient into the health care system, he went as far as to state that I was being “negligent” for advocating for more education for EMTs and paramedics because he felt that this was refusing to address the problem.  While he can try and hang his hat on the anecdotal experiences of his career, I will instead choose to rely on evidence which tells a different story. How can we expect EMTs and paramedics to perform assessments and make treatment decisions when our training tells us to stabilize to the best of our ability and deliver a patient to definitive care?  Giving EMS providers the blessing to deny transport or to recommend alternative destinations or treatment options is something that we have received no training to do.  While there are some instances where our assessment can be spot on where we would tell a patient “you don’t need to go to an emergency room, and you certainly do not need an ambulance” this decision making power would need to be universal if granted at...

An Ounce of Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  -Benjamin Franklin Throughout my career, I have been to maybe eight or nine critical incident stress debriefings.  I attended my first one when I was 17 years old after caring for a man who self-immolated as a means to take his own life.  Without getting into the details of this confidential event, the outcome for my family, who was on the call with me, and I was a long standing bond with the dispatchers in attendance.  About once a month for many years following, we used to take coffee and donuts down to the dispatch center to catch up with our new friends. I have always been a person who encouraged everyone involved to attend CISM’s, and I think I have spoken about that here before.  To those who have said, “I am not going to get anything out of it” I am quick to remind them that it’s not all about them.  Sometimes the best thing that we can do is offer something in our own personal experiences to someone else in attendance.  Sometimes, knowing that you are not alone is the greatest reassurance that a person can receive which is why I push people to stand together.  I would never mandate anyone to attend a CISM, and neither should anyone else, but I always strongly encourage people to show up. I do think, however, that we rely on CISM a little too heavily as a means to deal with the stress that people in our field shoulder day in and day out.  We sit back and watch people who struggle go to work every day.  We have all watched coworkers whose personal lives are crumbling around them, and have watched those personal issues spill over to their professional lives.  Heck, some of us have been those people.  We sit back and let people deteriorate because we don’t know what else to do.  Until something happens. Until that bad call.  That big call.  CISM is usually tied to major events.   It’s that nasty wreck on the interstate, or that pediatric cardiac arrest that results in a crew begging to take the rest of...

Comfort and Failure

In my post last week about the importance of being comfortable with failure, I mentioned statistics and benchmarking.  Last month, I had a chance to present at my first national conference when I spoke at EMS Today as part of the EMS Compass preconference.  I’ve been involved with the EMS Compass project since November of 2014 and while the process itself has had some growing pains, the mission and goals of the project involve some of the most important things to the future of our industry. For example, it is only with a firm understanding of the role of benchmarking in quality assurance and quality improvement that we will be truly able to compare the impact that we have on patient outcomes.  Understanding the impact of our care and being able to compare it to other systems is how best practices are discovered.  It all comes down to asking a couple of simple questions? WHY? The first question is an easy one, and that is simply why?  If another system is seeing better patient outcomes for their STEMI cases, or if they have a higher ROSC and survival rate for cardiac arrest, you need compare your system to theirs and just ask “WHY?”  Do they have a different set of CPR protocols?  Do they have a more aggressive field pronouncement protocol that steers medics to stay and play instead of taking a load and go approach with their cardiac arrest patients? The easiest way to figure any of this out is to work backwards.  Take the example of ROSC and survival rates.  If another system has a higher survival rate, start with where they are delivering their patients.  Are they using hypothermia for their patients prior to arrival or have they omitted that step at recommendation of the AHA?  Are they part of a completely different system with different protocols that might call for later intubation or a different style of airway management all together?  What about their care in the field differs from the care that you provide? After analyzing the care that takes place on scene, look at who is going to those calls.  Are they sending more help than you are? ...

A Challenge for the Industry

Tucked away in the back of the EMS Today Exhibit Hall was a board surrounded by a number of Post-Its bearing the question “What is the BIGGEST CHALLENGE in the EMS Industry?”  There were a number of responses on the board including head scratchers such as the one that stated standards should be lowered for volunteer providers, and no that was not my “trolling” submission.  Mine, unfortunately, did not make the final copy of the board, but I think that it needs to be delved into so what better place to do that than my little corner of the internet? My response was a simple one but an important one for all of us to remember.  My Post-It read “Stop being afraid to fail.”  We are so dead set on our own success that we are content with staying in a safe area of development in our industry.  Why try something new?  What if it does not work?  What if I do it wrong?  What if I cannot do it well?  What if somebody dies?  The answer to all of these questions are simple.  Respectively they read like this: our industry will not progress; dust off and try something else; practice more you’ll get it; again, practice; and finally, people die.  We cannot prevent that. When looking at some of the most successful people and industries one will find that many, many people have more misses than hits.  Take me, for example.  My first choice of where to spend my career, which I thought at one point that I would never leave, was not the right fit for me.  I’ve tried other blog ventures, and had two or three that never got off the ground before I even started writing on the pages that you are reading today.  I’ve invested time in countless projects that just did not work out.  All together though, the things that I put my heart into that have worked are in my eyes pretty successful. Even great inventors such as Thomas Edison, who held over 1,000  patents for his inventions had more than his fair share of failures.  Throughout his lifetime, he tried to invent devices that could project...

The Myth of Culture

Over the past couple of years I have read a few articles about the importance of living in the community that one serves.  I have seen articles championing volunteer organizations because “people like being cared for by their neighbors” or implying that those who do care for their neighbors would do a better job because of their proximity both physically and emotionally to a patient. Other articles about fire based systems for example talk about how being part of a community can allow one to know the back roads and short cuts that might shave precious seconds off of response times thus saving countless lives.  Further reading will reveal criticism of private EMS departments that come in from outside of the area and know little about the people that they are caring for.  Some feel that not living in the area that one practices medicine in can result in them caring that much less about the people that they are providing medical care for. Based on some personal experiences that I have had, I fail to see any of these as being an absolute that one should lead an argument with.  My first EMS position was in the town that I grew up in.  Island Heights, New Jersey is small, populated by maybe 1,200 people during the summer months.  It was impossible for me to go into a house on a call and not either know the patient or one of their relatives.  From there I moved some 250 miles away for college, and spent the first twelve years of my career in Springfield, Massachusetts.  I was a transplant, and as a white kid from suburbia, I did not fit the cultural makeup of the city that I worked in at all.  Neither did the vast majority of my coworkers.  Much like the majority of the workforce in EMS, we were Caucasian and majority male. Although I was not from the area I was able to learn the streets, and learn a lot about the culture as well.  Working in Springfield pushed me to improve the quality of the Spanish that I spoke, and learn a little bit about the cultures that I was...