Tag Archives: EMS vision

Examining the 2020 Vision of EMS

The NHTSA Office of EMS released a significant document last year called the EMS Agenda 2050 that was carefully crafted to set a bold vision for the next 30 years of paramedicine by clearly differentiating the focus of care from its original definition in the 1996 EMS Agenda for the Future. Now, after just a few months of a COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen these modern precepts being challenged. As with any such vision of the future, a bit more perspective then just the immediate quarter is required. Before stepping toward the future, it is important to know exactly where we are today. To provide that update, NASEMSO released a new National EMS Assessment this past April to provide a measure of emergency medical response personnel and their agencies in this pivotal year of 2020. Although the latest survey is only updating the original work of a decade ago, there have been such dramatic changes that direct comparisons, even over this relatively short time frame, are difficult. To help bridge that gap for comparison, the folks over at ZOLL did a quick blog to reflect on the evolution of the EMS industry since 2011. Still for many, a little more context on how we got this far may be helpful before we can truly understand the significance of these most recent discussions regarding the future of EMS.

It was only back in 1960, that President John F. Kennedy made the statement that “traffic accidents constitute one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, of the nation’s public health problems.” The automobile was well entrenched in the new American dream by this point as ribbons of smooth highway were unrolling across the country that facilitated speeds of travel much greater than the safety aspects of the car would afford. Yet it wasn’t until 1966 that the National Academy of Sciences ‘white paper,’ officially titled “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society,” that ambulances began to transform from a side business at funeral homes into our modern Emergency Medical Systems of today. This initial milestone report, delivered during the Vietnam War, stated that “if seriously wounded … chances of survival would be better in the zone of combat than on the average city street.” So, the signature of President Lyndon Johnson provided federal funding through the National Highway Safety Act of 1966 that not only provided for the establishment of EMS programs, but thoughtfully placed the system within the federal Department of Transportation. Although the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Acts of the 1980’s under President Ronald Reagan transformed direct federal EMS funding into state preventive health and health services block grants, federal guidance remained within the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The numbers 9-1-1 were added to the American experience by AT&T in 1968 and it grew slowly across the nation as more communities demanded Emergency Medical Services. The most effective recognition of out-of-hospital care throughout the 1970’s came as the result of a television show simply called “Emergency!” This drama highlighted the results of efforts by early cardiologists like Drs. Lown, Zoll and Pantridge in having developed portable devices capable of disrupting the lethal dysrhythmias of v-fib effectively parlaying paramedicine from a focus primarily on trauma to include chronic medical conditions within the home as well. Pediatric trauma would not be officially recognized until 1984 with an Emergency Medical Services for Children study leading to a report finally published in 1993. The patchwork quilt of EMS continued to grow with increasing interest and even more piecemeal funding. Economist Jack Stout led a revolution in economic modeling of EMS systems during the 80’s and 90’s in response to the imbalance of demand and financing that had already fractured EMS into a kaleidoscope of models from fire-based, public safety to “third-service” public utility models to for-profit integrated healthcare businesses. 

It is certainly no accident that our industry has ended up in the position we are today. As W.E. Deming has taught the world, “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” And we proudly embrace the philosophy that states “when you’ve seen one EMS, you’ve seen one EMS” because we still believe that each service knows the particular unique expectations of their individual community while allowing insurance companies to dictate reimbursement rates. As a result, there is little federal standardization beyond a minimum national level of competency and few local agencies that are funded as “essential services”  even though the NAEMT has advocated this position for years. 

Today, it is heart disease that has overtaken the American consciousness as waistbands expand across the countryside demanding more from our organs than the body was designed to provide. In addition, we face new biological and socio-economic challenges for delivering healthcare in the field. We’ve needed a new road map like the EMS Agenda 2050, but we can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. As professionals, we all need to educate ourselves on topics like Emergency Triage, Treatment, and Transport (ET3) and health information exchanges that are being piloted at select services. We must be the change we want to promote. 

 

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Filed under Administration & Leadership, Command & Leadership, EMS Health & Safety, EMS Topics, Funding & Staffing, News, Opinion, Technology & Communications, Training & Development, Vehicle Operation & Ambulances

What Starman is Saying About the Future of EMS

We have seen the last photo to be transmitted directly from the cherry red Tesla Roadster belonging to the electric car manufacturing CEO, Elon Musk, that is being driven through space by a dummy named Starman while listening to David Bowie tunes. That is clearly the sort of historic snapshot that will not fade any time soon. More importantly, it is developing a new picture in my mind of an image that belies the future of EMS here on earth.

This “PR stunt for the ages,” as the BBC put it, was conceived by Elon Musk who is also CEO of SpaceX, a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport service. He is a South African-born billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Paypal (in addition to Tesla and SpaceX) who has manufactured the most powerful rocket on earth as a stepping stone for carrying cargo and passengers to colonize Mars. And almost as if to show his prowess, he designed his rocket to have parts that land upright on targets after separation from the main rocket so they could be reused in future launches. In case  there was any doubt before, Musk can definitely claim to be a space visionary now. Until earlier this month, all of these ideas were considered to be the indisputable domain of science fiction. So what is the connection to EMS? Bear with me.

As I was growing up, I followed the Apollo missions between 1961 and 1975 that ended up taking humans to the moon. Okay, I wasn’t actually born until 1964, but even as child I could recognize the historic importance of that “one small step” Neil Armstrong took that eventually slipped mankind beyond the surly bonds of earth during the Space Shuttle program of the 80’s. Long before video games supplanted the imagination of childhood, my friends and I rode a nearly-fallen, old tree poised perfectly to take young dreamers into the stars to explore unknown worlds. Our only hope of reaching the inky black of space was to be an astronaut. And it was NASA that held a monopoly on those dreams.

The world is very different today and so is NASA. The government space agency is no longer the only game in town. In fact, since the retirement of the Atlantis shuttle in 2011, NASA has been hitchhiking space rides with the Russian government and private companies. The government employees that met President Kennedy’s challenge “to do the hard thing,” with less computing power than I carry in my pocket, has now been upstaged by a billionaire blasting his own sports car into space for a unique photo op. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Space is about science. It is about the good of all humanity. The private sector is not supposed have the right stuff! Had NASA let me down?

Now. Let’s talk about EMS models. Sure, “if you’ve seen one EMS, you’ve seen one EMS”; but the common thread is that we serve the public. And only the public sector has the best interest of all people at heart, right? Wait, or it is only the fire service with their selfless devotion to helping others that can claim the legitimate right to save lives? Or, maybe it can only be the volunteers who truthfully don’t do it for the money. It certainly can’t be the minions of a for-profit company. Their only motivation is greed. “You call, we haul, and that is all.”

I used to think there was a right answer for modelling an EMS, a single best practice that universally applied. With all that we have experienced, there had to be a right answer. However, one thing Starman helped me see is that our answers don’t always fit when we ask the wrong question. Space travel is simply a means to an end. The goal Musk set for his SpaceX team was not to just build a record-setting rocket, but to design a means to build a human colony on Mars. The goal that President Kennedy set was not to beat Russia into space, but to put a man on the moon. Given these great missions, I am disappointed by the level of discussions we often have in EMS. We focus on the details of programs to get them right – often to the exclusion of a coordinating plan. We expect that working out these details will lead us to the right end.  

Do we have a “moon shot” challenge in EMS? Hopefully it is more than building new programs or perfecting existing models of delivery. Every EMS organization has a mission statement, but is it something that can really guide us or is it simply something to make us feel good about what we already do? Does your organization share a vision of what we truly hope to accomplish through improvement and lay out how different we want our service to look when our tour is over? Building a community paramedicine program works is some settings, but shouldn’t necessarily be owned by EMS everywhere. To some agencies, the thought of patients being dropped off at the ED by an Uber rideshare is a serious threat. For others, the core challenge is CMMS reimbursement rates.

When we focus on program details we find more differences with other services than commonalities. Where we lack an understanding of an actionable vision, we find very different goals depending on specific employee roles. Successful businesses share a common, actionable vision and each individual learns how their tasks help to make that vision a reality. Ultimately, our daily job is really little more than touching the lives of patients. The moon of our shared quest, therefore, is not a model for deployment, is not the creation of a universal program, it is really about the effective care we give to each and every patient. The details of the programs must grow from that understanding. The vision must be set to allow every provider to correct the course of change rather than focus on blindly applying protocols. 

I used to think there was a simple formula, a best practice that universally applied, but then I took a look for the moon of our profession. Like Neil Armstrong said in July of 1969 when he stood on the surface of his dream and gazed back toward earth and said, “I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” Just a few years later, Alan Shepard had his turn on the lunar surface. His remark was, “when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” But probably the best statement came during an interview with Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchel, when he said “from out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”

What Starman is teaching me is that any dummy can ride in an expensive rig, the trick is to go somewhere important and do something meaningful.

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