With one hundred percent certainty the EMS empty suit proclaims that a college degree will fix all the issues EMS faces both today and in the future. Strangely, many of the proponents of a degree requirement do not even have a college degree themselves. They honestly believe it is a simple equation of supply versus demand. Degrees will cause there to be fewer paramedics and therefore increased demand for paramedics, which will fix everything. Complex problems rarely have simple answers.
Raising the barriers to entry and decreasing the number of paramedics won’t automatically equal higher pay for paramedics, it might just create more bastardized dumbed-down version of paramedic to skirt the regulations- think EMT-Intermediate,* Advanced EMT–Critical Care, Cardiac-EMT, Enhanced EMT, IEMT and all the other alphabet-soup flavors of ALS-lite that exist for communities that can’t or won’t pay for paramedics to be on staff or volunteers that don’t want undertake that much education to help out their community. 
I thought doing quality assurance (QA) at my EMS agency was going to be a simple matter.
I was wrong.
A decade ago the QA person at my agency resigned. Because I was a willing, warm body I got the job. I didn’t get any training on how to do QA, but I also didn’t think I needed any – besides, it was just going to be a matter of reading reports and telling people when they screwed up.
Over the past decade, I have learned many lessons while doing QA; more than a few of them have been about me as a person than how to do quality assurance. Being blinded by ignorance (along with a side of arrogance) I was certain in my approach – treatments could be labeled right or wrong, protocols were followed or they weren’t and providers were either good or bad at their job. If you made a mistake the solution consisted of write-ups, remedial training, and discipline. I made complex flow charts to grade medical errors by the level of harm to the patient. The level of harm dictated the actions that followed. Level 2b yellow was bad but not as bad as a level C3 orange. God help you if you were found guilty of a level 4 red event.
The Dunning-Kruger effect was strong with me. There is nothing simple about doing quality assurance for EMS. From time to time I try to share what I have learned from doing this job. What follows is something that might have been better as two separate posts, or maybe you can view it as a two-for-one deal. The Outcome Bias
The core concept of the book is the WRAP process. In the heat of the moment it can be hard to remember all of this so I made a pocket sized cheat sheet to consult before making some decisions. It is tailored to my needs and some of it may not make sense to you, some of it is a bit abbreviated. You obviously cannot completely avoid some of the biases, but for the sake of brevity I put “avoid” instead of “really try to avoid…”
For example: I am not a morning person, at all. I am cranky until I have ingested about 600mg of caffeine and should probably make as few decisions as possible before 10am. We were having a discussion about our protocols and if we should approach the state to attempt to get a waiver for non critical care certified paramedics to transport patients on levophed on inter-facility transfers. Should we or shouldn’t we ask the state?
I was going back and forth with it internally. No we should just require everyone to get a critical care certification. Maybe we should try for the waiver so that it shares the load among the crew, so yes? No, why should people get to have the standards lowered, they should have to do the work like I did and get an FP-C. Yes, it isn’t rocket science, it is titrating a medication to a BP. No, because then what was the point of me getting a CC cert? No, because it is going to mean we cannot charge the medicare SCT billing rate when they take the transfer. Yes, because we should focus on building people up. I don’t know…
Should we do it or not?
I was still several hundred milligrams short of my therapeutic dose of caffeine when a single neuron somehow fired and I was able to form a cogent thought. I realized I was falling victim to narrow framing and the the trap of “should we or shouldn’t we?” I needed to widen my view and figure out my goals.
The wider view was simply to ask what are we trying to accomplish here? We are trying to get sick patients to the right place in a timely manner. Often the weather shuts down the option of flying and they must go by ground transport for 2-3 hours from the local level IV to a level II or I hospital. It would be tragic to make a patient sit in a ER room or get admitted to a level IV when that is what they do not need. We are trying to get patients to where they should go in a timely manner, does approaching the state about a waiver for non-critical care paramedics to transport vaso-active medications on IFTs align with these goals? I think it does. Can it be done safely with the proper training and education? I would say yes.
“Yes, we should approach the state about a waiver.
And then I slowly sunk back in to the haze that is my early morning and wondered if I should or should not have another cup of coffee.
Feel free to copy this, mock it, edit it, share it or anything else you might want to do with it.
For every EMS provider that understands what a NNT or P value is, there are ten out there that think backboards save lives and that oxygen is somehow a pain med. For every provider that knows the difference between a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) and an observational study, there is an army of providers that believe asystole is an indication for naloxone. Show me an EMS provider who knows about what the AHA means with their proprietary class IIb recommendation (see below if you don’t know) and I will show you a hundred providers who are convinced that oxygen is a lifesaving intervention in a normoxic myocardial infarction patient.
Mary Baker Eddy authored the book of magical Christian Science nonsense, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” in 1875. I find myself consulting a somewhat similar book with some frequency, “EMS Protocols Version 10.” Both books deal with raising the dead and treating the sick and injured and both books are far from being what one could consider science as they rest on a large foundation of anecdotal evidence and appeal from authority.
The 2015 AHA Emergency Cardiovascular Care Guidelines (AKA ACLS) which sort of forms a default standard of care* in our industry are mostly based on opinions and limited data. Shockingly, 46% of the recommendations in the guidelines are drawn from studies with limited data sets and 23% of the recommendations being based on “expert opinion.”
Much of what we do in the name of ACLS either does not work or does not work and might be harmful. Instead of asking if a medication works we have entered some sort of weird “the emperor has no clothes” paradigm. We now have to prove things do NOT work before we stop subjecting patients to out “treatments.” Painting with a broad brush here, for the average patient some of our treatments are about as effective as Reiki.
Some examples of what I mean:
Amiodarone in cardiac arrest: No better than a placebo in terms of increasing CPC scores.
Epinephrine in cardiac arrest: Not helpful in cardiac arrest in terms of increasing CPC scores , likely harmful
Saline in trauma: harmful in large doses
Backboards: No benefit in terms of immobilization, possibly harmful
C-collars: No benefit in terms of immobilization, possibly harmful
Lasix in acute pulmonary edema: No benefit, probably harmful in acute pulmonary edema
High flow oxygen in the normoxic patient: No benefit, harmful in some patients
Lights and sirens: Little benefit, high risk.
TPA ambulances: No benefit (except marketing)
Lucas devices: No benefit over well performed CPR with adequate rescuers, may be harmful
Surviving sepsis guidelines (30ml/kg for ALL patients): May be harmful to some (most?) patients
Some Supraglottic airways in cardiac arrests: No benefit in most cases, may be harmful
And let’s not forget a laundry list of our greatest misses involving things like MAST, high dose epinephrine in cardiac arrests, Therapeutic hypothermia following cardiac arrest, sodium bicarbonate in cardiac arrests, stacked shocks, treating “malignant” PVCs, and whatever else lurked in the drawers of the Plano box that you would give during cardiac arrests. The issue is all of these things made sense at the time; they all seemed like good ideas at the time.
The problem is the trend continues in EMS.
We simply refuse to learn from the past.
In the name of being a “progressive” agency, EMS is yet again engaging in alternative medicine. A small study on anesthetized pigs shows promise in performing heads up CPR and suddenly an EMS agency is being progressive and performing heads up CPR. If the science does not pan out and patients end up getting a treatment that made them worse, please accept our apologies in the name of “progress.”
But what is a bit of human sacrifice when things like marketability and JEMS articles are at stake? All those dead patients are just grist for the mill, casualties in the war against the status quo.
I fully support well done randomized controlled trials in medicine and many of our current practices need to be placed under the magnifying glass of an RCT; but an agency simply rolling out a new unproven, poorly researched treatment and touting their “results” does not equal an RCT. As providers, we have very little skin in the game here, we have all the upside if the new hotness works and we have none of the downside. If the treatment turns out to be causing harm we simply wash our hands of it and talk about it in blog posts like this a few years later. We don’t consider the countless dead we left behind when the next new shiny thing comes our way.
Another disturbing trend that is emerging is that of the “compounding resuscitationist” phenomenon. I agree that standard dose epinephrine either has little meaningful effects or is somewhat harmful. If I were to suffer a cardiac arrest I do not want any epinephrine given to me, and a sort of DNE form (Do Not Epi) might need to be created. I think a drug without any proven benefit and an association with harm should not be given to patients. Unfortunately many people are playing mad scientist and coming up with their own proprietary dosing regimens: adding a milligram to a liter and running it in over 20 minutes, spaced out dosing, giving some random dose of epinephrine, dosing based on etco2, giving only one or two doses, or a number of other alternative dosing regimens. This is not science, it is alternative medicine. It does not clarify anything; it only muddies the waters further.
Should we even discuss the madness that stroke ambulances are? Perhaps that is topic best left to a separate post.
There is a certain satisfaction one may get from being progressive. It feels good, it strokes the ego a bit when you have new information and do things other agencies are not doing. It may even generate some attention for you and your agency, especially if you are good at self-promotion. As long as you continue to employ the confirmation bias and only remember the few times the progressive movement was correct it is easy to continue this dangerous trend. We owe it to the dead to proceed with caution and diligence and avoid the seductive power of progressiveness.
We have entered the next age of medicine and are proud to present the release of EMS 4.0.
While we do offer our regrets regarding the brevity of the prior upgrade, the EMS 3.0 model was not optimized to achieve the cross-platform metrics that stakeholders demanded and will no longer be supported as of last week.
Rest assured that EMS 4.0 is both progressive and allows for enhanced marketability.
It is a bold new era with the release of EMS 4.0, the patented technology allows end-users to break free of the cycle of being needlessly constrained by things such as facts or evidence. Finally free of the burden of proving efficacy, or even any kind of tangible benefits, EMS 4.0 is sure to deliver the results you and your agency need in today’s emerging mobile healthcare solution marketplace. Continue reading “EMS 4.0.”→
Like some fever induced nightmare, David Avocado Wolfe begins to materialize in your peripheral vision, cad in a bullshit Mexican poncho he is visible as long as you do not look directly at him. He rubs his beads of peace slowly, like a rosary while he whispers softly in your ear, beckoning you to come with him to the sewers of natural news.
“They believe. And when you’re down here with me, you’ll believe, too…”
The bodies were still out there in the streets, covered with makeshift body bags when they asked you to donate to the cause. Less than 18 hours had elapsed since 58 people were murder, and 500+ were injured and when they started the fundraiser.
No, this wasn’t for the victims or their families.
I have sat on this post for 19 days, wondering if I should post it or not. I decided that what I have to say, needs to be said.
I need to be clear here. The zealots have a “if you are not with us, you are against us approach.” I want to preempt the rhetoric that is sure to follow that I am “perpetuating the stigma,” which seems to be the go-to defense when questions arise.
I support mental health initiatives for EMS providers and think people deserve care if they need it. I think every agency must feel responsible for their employee’s physical and mental injuries that occur from the job and even more for preventing these in the first place. I do not support their approach to the issue.
But, Jesus Christ…
It took less than 18 hours before the deaths of 58 people became about us, the rescuers.
For a problem that does not exist yet.
We are told the money is being raised for the mental health issues that the EMS workers who responded to Las Vegas are going to suffer.
Unless the Code Green Campaign has developed clairvoyance this is speculation, perhaps not unreasonable, but still speculation.
The fundraising campaign exposes the assumption that is the foundation of the organization; when EMS responds to these calls some responders will develop mental health problems, some of them may even need inpatient treatment and rehab for substance abuse. The notion that their agencies will not pay for this and will not support their employees is implied as otherwise there would not be a need for this.
If I were a manager for a Las Vegas Fire, Law or EMS service I would be highly offended that an organization thinks I am not going to take care of my employees; that they need to set up a fundraiser to pay for things workers comp should be paying for. And it should be paying for it, just so there is no misunderstanding what I am saying.
Maybe the organizers of the fundraiser have inside info on this and I will have to eat my words, maybe I am overly optimistic about the level of caring and resources that Las Vegas EMS/Fire and Law agencies have at their disposal. If we employ Hanlon’s Razor at best this fundraising is an ill-conceived and insensitive attempt to help. At worst, it is something much different.
A line needs to be drawn in the sand. We need to stop making every tragedy about us. It is not our tragedy. How selfish is it to agree to help (by accepting the job) and within 16 hours of 58 people being shot to start saying that we need some money for us. We chose this field, we chose to help others. We were not drafted, conscripted, or otherwise forced in to some sort of EMS servitude.
We willingly agreed to this. We chose to have front row seats to all the shit that life serves up.
How about we let the families finish burying their dead before we make this about ourselves. Consider holding off on the fundraising until the funerals have finished and let the nation mourn before the diatribes about what the rescuers had to endure that day begins. What the rescuers had to deal with is tragic, but it does not hold a comparison to the thousands of lives that were forever horribly changed that day. Go look at the dead, you owe them that much. Now imagine their families. Tell me again how bad we have it? http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-las-vegas-shootings-victims-list-20171002-htmlstory.html
EMS is about serving others, at least to some degree.
I won’t go all Mother Theresa here. I am not going to blow smoke up your ass and talk about how we are always on call or tell you that I would run in to a rain of gunfire to save someone because it is bullshit. I am probably not going to do that. I am no hero and I am going home in the morning after my shift if I have any say in it.
Someone needs to speak up and be the opposition. We are not all one call away from a mental health issue. Sorry, I know that might bother some people, but it needs to be said. If you find yourself preaching resiliency while at the same time saying we are all time bombs, you are full of shit.
You are going to see dead and dying people if you are in EMS. You will see people in pain and suffering. You will see humanity at their absolute god damn worst. You may see many people die in a short period of time. You are signing up for this.
And it is not about you.
You may need to reconcile who you think you are with who you really are. This may not be a skill that the majority of the population possesses; honest self-assessment flies in the face of the Dunning-Kruger effect which has apparently become an epidemic in society.
“Maybe you are wired different, maybe you are more resilient than others, maybe you have better coping skills than others” is what I often hear. Beats me, sure, maybe I am, I have no idea. I don’t know what kind of coping skills you have. I don’t know what kind of bullshit you are dealing with outside of work. What I do know is some jobs require specific mental and physical attributes. Perhaps it is time here to go out on a limb and say that EMS and medicine in general require a certain personality type or at a minimum specific attributes. No, I do not know how to screen for it or if that is even possible.
Life is short, violent and often brutal and has been this way for a majority of human history. Only recently, in the past few decades, have we become insulated from the reality of how life is.
EMS can be draining; it can exert both a mental and physical toll on those who do it, but the bleating of “what about us” while the blood is still in the streets is more than bothersome.
I imagine there will be some images that rescuers saw that day that they wish they could forget. Some providers may indeed get mental health issues from being at work that night and they should get all the assistance they need. If they do not get the help they need I do not think a few dollars thrown their way is the solution; we need to hold peoples feet to the flames here. We need to demand accountability from management and workers comp insurance. We need to demand legislative changes and cultural changes, not a gofundme account that will pay for a few people to get some help or fund the staff trip to talk about awareness.
The goal of an EMS quality assurance program (QA) should be increasing safety, satisfaction, and outcomes for both EMS providers and patients. Unfortunately, many QA programs are not healthy, they are a dysfunctional mess.
I want EMS to have a degree requirement because it should cull the herd a bit, raise the bar and lower the supply of workers ready to do it for next to nothing. This should translate into more money for those that stay in the field, “should” being the key word in this sentence. A degree will allegedly give us a seat at some metaphorical healthcare table and might change the perception of EMS from being ambulance drivers to some sort of legitimate healthcare providers, perhaps even allowing us to be in charge of our own destiny as an industry (profession?).
A degree is likely a surrogate end point for keeping out the lowest common denominator that is attracted to EMS. Our low barriers to entry coupled with the ability for someone to get a bit of authority, respect and be occasionally viewed as a hero by joining EMS might be an issue.
I have a BA in an unrelated field and honestly, I do not think it helped me learn how to think well or do that much intellectually. What I do think a degree represents is a certain willingness to do more and try to become more educated. A degree may be a surrogate endpoint for a certain type of personality that we should look to attract to our field. A degree might be a rule in, but perhaps lack of one is not a rule out when hiring.
Then again when we look at the general state of college campuses today, at least what I see in the media, it seems open and free exchanges of ideas may be in danger of extinction.
The question regarding a degree needs to be this: will it make EMS better? Well, that depends, better for whom? It would probably make it better for me but should that be the focus of EMS? No. We need to make things better for the patients.
We need to make things better for patients, better for communities and better for healthcare.
Would a degree requirement make things better for patients? Would a degree make patient based outcomes better? Is a degree holding paramedic what is needed in the field by our patients? If a degree does not make tangible outcomes better would it make more intangible things like rapport, patient satisfaction, and public perceptions better? It seems like it should work. Then again there is a long list of things EMS has adopted in the past that seemed like they should work: MAST, therapeutic hypothermia, IV fluid therapy for hypovolemic shock from hemorrhage, backboards, etc.
Maybe we need to think more big-picture and less about us. Maybe wanting to feel like a real health care provider (and I do want to feel that way) should not factor into a needs assessment. Maybe we are trying to turn being a paramedic in to something it might not be? Maybe a paramedic or an EMT is a real clinician, I do not know. Then again, maybe being a pre-hospital clinician is what is needed by patients. Maybe patients need more than an entry level paramedic currently provides. It is hard to say as there in nothing but opinion and speculation regarding this for now.
If we want to invoke a slippery slope argument here we could put a physician on every ambulance in America, but we need to deal with reality. For everything there is a cost to benefit ratio. While adding doctors to ambulances would almost certainly increase outcomes, I suspect the gains would be marginal when we compare cold hard facts with dollars.
What about communities that cannot afford this? While we can argue it is an essential service at some point in rural America there is a finite amount of cash and asking people to choose between an EMS program and some other services is a hard line. An EMS service might be essential but in many places a volunteer BLS ambulance with one EMT meets the criteria. Perhaps a ride to the hospital and some empathy is all that is really needed? Perhaps that is good enough for some areas, or that is the best that they can do.
Perhaps a ride to the hospital and some empathy is all that is really needed? Perhaps that is good enough for some areas, or that is the best that they can do. I like to think we can do better, but it is not up to me.
Until someone has the guts to make a degree requirement in a USA based EMS service and compare outcomes, or do a RCT of some sort, all we have is speculation, opinions, extrapolations, and hunches. Yes, I am aware of the data in other fields like nursing that show some increases in outcomes but those do not necessarily equate to outcomes EMS would use.
On the other hand, the worst case scenario would be a degree requirement with no increase in outcomes and no increase in pay.
While I think a more education is a good thing I also believe the “leaders” of EMS that are calling for this may be unable to see the forest for the trees. Rather than add what I believe to be marginal gains by producing a workforce of well-rounded paramedics, perhaps we should start with a complete overhaul the current EMS education program. If we want to make an EMS specific degree program that adds to our current standards, then I am all for it. But I do not believe that is what many are advocating for.
I would rather have better, more proficient paramedics than a more “well-rounded” paramedic when it comes down to it.
Adding in several hundred medically specific hours to the existing paramedic curriculum seems like what is needed much more than adding in English and math classes at this point. The benefits gained from a semester of “managing the intubated patient” would far outweigh the benefits of a semester of statistics. Throwing in a 4 credit semester of internship in an ICU of “managing the critically ill patient field internship” would likely bring a larger gain than a semester of studying European literature.
I am in no way anti-education and I believe that a degree requirement is a great idea for anyone looking to embark in EMS management and perhaps it should be the standard. I believe that having an understanding of writing, statistics, scientific methods and research all seem like important things to have a manager to be knowledgeable about.
*For the sake of clarity in this post, I am referring to street level providers here and not managerial/supervisory positions.