Health Break | Published May 15, 2006 | Written by Kasandra Botti, DO, FACEP

EMS: Serving on Health Care's Front Line

The week of May 14–20 marks the 33rd annual National Emergency Medical Services Week sponsored by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). This is a chance for local communities and medical personnel to come together to promote safety and prevention as well as honor the dedication of those who provide the day-to-day lifesaving services of medicine's "front line."

Throughout the United States, there are 750,000 emergency medical providers who serve their communities. Emergency Medical Services is considered an extension of emergency medicine. EMS personnel play a vital role in injury and illness prevention.

As this year's National EMS Week theme of "EMS: Serving on Health Care's Front Line" emphasizes, the brave men and women who serve as EMS providers are often first on the scene of a motor vehicle crash, the scene of a disaster or other events that may place them in a hazardous environment. It is important that we take time to honor these front line medical responders.

The role of EMS is forever changing. I believe ACEP best defines EMS: EMS is out-of-hospital patient care. EMS is ambulance transport. EMS is an extension of emergency medicine and an arm of public health. EMS is a safety net. EMS is prevention. EMS is first response and public safety.

In fact, EMS plays all of these roles, making it truly worthy of the moniker: America's front line of health care.

To commemorate EMS Week and honor its prehospital providers, Seven Mountains EMS Council, which oversees the counties of Centre, Clinton, Juniata and Mifflin, will be hosting a number of special events in the area, including an EMS encampment at Fort Bellefonte Campground May 19-21. There will be a catered picnic as well as other scheduled events throughout the weekend.

During EMS Week, we like to take the opportunity to raise public awareness about our local Emergency Medical Services. Most importantly, we promote health and safety issues, including how to prevent injuries and what to do in a medical emergency.

What should you do in a medical emergency?

The first thing to do is to determine what type of medical emergency you are experiencing and call 911. Call an ambulance if the patient has the following problems:

  • Choking or trouble breathing

  • A seizure

  • Won't respond when you move or talk to her/him

  • Sudden or intense pain

  • Heavy bleeding

  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea

  • Coughing or vomiting blood

  • Chest pain/pressure

  • Neck or back injury

  • Confusion or mental change

  • Fainting

  • Sudden dizziness

  • Weakness

  • Change in vision

  • Or if a patient is suicidal or homicidal

When you call 911, what should you tell the dispatcher?

  • Describe the emergency; speak slowly and calmly.

  • Give your name and phone number.

  • Give exact location/address and nearby landmarks.

  • Give name, age and number of patients.

  • Follow the dispatcher's instructions and answer his or her questions.

  • Don't hang up until you are told to.

  • Don't leave the scene until help arrives.

What should you do while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive?

  • Stay calm and keep the patient calm.

  • Keep the patient awake and warm.

  • Do not give the patient anything to eat or drink.

  • Do not move a patient who has been a victim of trauma, such as a bicycle accident, a motor vehicle collision or a significant fall.

What can you do for the emergency responders?

  • Illuminate your location to make it easier to find.

  • If possible, send someone down to the street to flag down the ambulance.

  • Clear an easy route to the patient.

  • Put pets in another part of the house.

  • Write down all the patient's medications and allergies.

  • Gather the patient's medical history.

Take this opportunity to honor and thank the first responders, emergency medical technicians and paramedics of your community, who are available every hour of every day when you or a loved one may suffer an emergency.

Kasandra Botti, MD is an emergency physician with Centre Emergency Medical Associates, practicing at Mount Nittany Medical Center. She is the regional medical director for Seven Mountains EMS Council. She was named Pennsylvania's 2006 Emergency Physician of the Year by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.