Technology is expanding at a rapid pace in all fields, and the methods and equipment that were once common place are becoming less prevalent. This is true especially for emergency medical services, and Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service is continually updating their procedures to keep up with the current industry standard of care.
Executive Director Bob Hargis said these changes have inadvertently created some public confusion.
“People do not always realize that what is considered acceptable practice has changed over recent years,” Hargis said. “It’s like anything else. If you went to the hospital today, you certainly wouldn’t want them treating you based on procedures done 20 years ago. People often think EMTs should still be doing the same things that they did in the past, but things have changed.”
One of the most immediately noticeable changes in the field is a reduced utilization of the lights and sirens. Hargis said while they still typically run the sirens on the way to the patient, that is not always the case when delivering the patient to the hospital.
“We’ve cut way back on the lights and sirens. Even in a lot of emergency situations lights and sirens are something the industry has moved away from.” Hargis said. “Running in emergency mode saves very little time overall, and in some cases the endangerment to public safety outweighs the necessity to drive fast with the emergency lights.”
Dan McLeod, clinical OPS manager, said this is particularly true in cardiac arrest events where multiple medics are working on the patient while in route to the hospital. The high speed, often jarring rides, can actually be detrimental to care the patient receives.
“That’s typically the scenario where we have more of our responders in the back,” McLeod said. “You’ve got a medic or several medics and firefighters circling around the patient unbelted trying to get several things done at once. That’s a very high stress scenario for the driver who is trying to maintain the safety of everyone in the back as well as everyone else on the road.”
Another new industry standard concerns the treatments provided before leaving the scene.
“Paramedics now have the tools in their hands to do pretty amazing things on the scene. Studies have shown this is especially important in cardiac arrest patients,” Hargis said. “The time it takes to transport a patient may be the crucial moments when they are still able to be revived. So we are utilizing the valuable time allotted to us to save the victim before permanent brain damage occurs.”
While EMS workers have a wide array of tools at their disposal, not every treatment is appropriate in every case.
“In days past, everyone who got into an ambulance got oxygen,” Hargis said. “Now we only provide oxygen to those who require it based on the results of oxygen saturation readings, but people don’t always understand this and think we are failing to give the treatment the patient needs.”
Hargis said the same situation applies to immobilization devices.
“People involved in accidents or falls are not always immobilized on a backboard like they were in years past. Research has demonstrated that in many circumstances this procedure was not beneficial and could even possibly be harmful,” Hargis said. “Bystanders often expect anyone who is injured to be fully immobilized, but this is no longer an acceptable method.”
McLeod said these new procedures are based on state approved protocols which have come down from national standards.
“The entire industry is moving, not just SOAS,” McLeod said. “It’s still a public service in every sense of the word, but we’re moving more into a healthcare profession. With that comes an increased ability to study our procedures and protocols and what is good and bad for the patients.”