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4 Tips: Add Empathy to EMS Care

Empathy is about trying to understand, as best we can, someone else’s situation or experience. The question is, do we in EMS truly understand the word? Are we empathetical to ourselves and to the people we work with?

While some say that empathy comes from proper upbringing, today’s decline in civility means we see less and less of it displayed. A major contributing factor is the “tough” exterior we favor in each other: how often have you heard comments like “come on, just suck it up buttercup,” “you need to be tougher than that to be a medic,” or “we’re EMS, we eat our young.” Why are we like this, and why can’t we reinforce the empathy that naturally resides in all of us?

Empathy is a big part of our jobs, and we need to teach it to our students, our employees and each other. People need to feel that it’s OK to be empathetic and that it’s a natural part of the whole EMS picture.

One of the best techniques to foster empathy is active listening — not only to our patients but also to staff and co-workers. When you actively listen, you H.E.A.R. …

 Halt: Stop whatever else you are doing, end your internal dialogue on other thoughts, and free your mind to give the speaker your attention.

 Engage: Focus on the speaker. We suggest a physical component, such as turning your head slightly so that your right ear is toward the speaker as a reminder to be engaged solely in listening.

Anticipate: By looking forward to what the speaker has to say, you are acknowledging that you will likely learn something new and interesting, which will enhance your motivation to listen.

Replay: Think about what the speaker is saying. Analyze and paraphrase it in your mind or in discussion with the speaker and other classmates. Replaying and dialoguing the information you have heard will aid in understanding what the speaker is attempting to convey.”1

So always look at the other’s point of view and try to understand what he or she is facing. It just might change your attitude and make you a better provider.

References:
1  Wilson, Donna & Conyers, Marcus, “4 Proven Strategies for Teaching Empathy”. Edutopia, January 4, 2017.

Your EMS Reputation Depends on Three Cs

Your EMS Reputation Depends on Three Cs—Credentials, Courtesy, Community

In EMS, your reputation is critical. Your character moves with you from provider to provider and from squad to squad; EMS is a small world where people know about you before you even step foot in the door.

People react to you based on judgments from not only real life, but also your digital life. With Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media networks so prevalent today, your social media profile serves as the basis of your reputation both professionally and privately.

Unfortunately, social media blunders abound among EMS providers, affecting their reputations and their future hiring ability. You can find hundreds of examples doing a quick online search; here are just two.

Three South Carolina responders fired for making statements like “idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work …” (Kaplan, 2016, para. 3)

A Brockton, Mass. dispatcher who said of a pregnant overdose patient, “She needs to be left to rot …” (Shephard, 2018, para. 5)

A better way to think of your reputation is the “Three Cs” — Credentials, Courtesy and Community.

  • Credentials may also be called Continuing Education, as it’s vital to keep learning throughout your career. Many of the best paramedics and EMTs are lifelong learners; in contrast there are others who take the NREMT exam and then never do more to see EMS from a wider perspective.
  • Courtesy means being courteous not only to your patients and coworkers but also to yourself. When others feel comfortable around you, it is easier to develop those close ties and professional relationships that boost your reputation.
  • Community refers to both where you live and the broader EMS community at large. The public and our industry look to us to build and improve a framework where we can all grow and thrive. Professional norms promote collaboration, knowledge sharing and a collective responsibility for improving ourselves and our treatments.

So, let’s follow the “Three Cs” to improve EMS as a community. Let’s have better, more convenient education that goes beyond the “same old, same old.” Let’s push our medical directors for improved, evidence-based treatments. Let’s pull each other up and be leaders at the healthcare table. Lastly, let’s stand out in the community with reputations that reflect the consummate professionals we truly are.

Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME, which recently launched a new learning platform. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings

References

(Kaplan, 2016, para. 3) “Three S.C. first responders fired for threatening comments about protesters” Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/13/three-s-c-first-responders-fired-for-threatening-comments-about-protesters/ 

(Shephard, 2018, para. 5) “Dispatcher put on leave for harsh Facebook comments” Retrieved from https://www.ems1.com/ems-social-media/articles/378700048-Dispatcher-put-on-leave-for-harsh-Facebook-comments/

Make a Difference: EMS and Human Trafficking

When we think of trafficking, we generally think of drugs or weapons, not human beings. Yet the problem exists in numerous communities where EMS responders deliver care.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means for an improper purpose.” (End Slavery Now, 2018, para. 1) A more succinct definition comes from Kathryn Brinsfield, MD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Homeland Security: “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.” (DHS, 2017, para. 3)

Why is this so important in today’s EMS field? We are the first on scene, we are the ones invited inside where others are not and we are the ones who see an injured person’s environment.  Our interactions with others can help us spot some of the tell-tale indicators.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons people are trafficked:

  • Domestic Slavery: People are brought into private homes to work as slave labor, with no options to leave.
  • Sex Trafficking: Children, men and women are forced into the commercial sex industry
  • Forced and Bonded Labor: People are forced to work under the threat of violence for no pay — often to repay a debt — without the ability to leave
  • Forced Marriage: Women and children are forced to marry another against their will and without their consent.

As an industry, there is much that EMS can do. We must keep our ears and eyes open, and report things that raise red flags in our minds. Some of the most common indicators we will see as emergency responders are:

  • Signs of abuse, wounds or bruising in various stages of healing or malnutrition
  • Scars or mutilations, including tattoos showing ownership
  • Language or cultural barriers preventing injured persons from communicating with you
  • Submissive or nervous appearances
  • Security measures like overly hardened doors or windows preventing movement of people

DHS has a great educational sheet with additional indicators to look for: click here for a printable copy. While a particular situation may turn out not to be what you suspect, report your suspicions regardless so trained law enforcement experts can evaluate the situation. Your hunch may save a life or multiple lives. Call Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or online here. You can also receive additional training here.

References

Slavery Today (2018). Retrieved from   http://www.endslaverynow.org/learn/slavery-today

EMS’s Role in the Effort to End Human Trafficking (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ems.gov/newsletter/marapr2016/end-human-trafficking.html

Changing the Face of EMS for the New Century

EMS has always been the forefront of medicine, delivering care to the sick and injured in various roles dating as far back as the Civil War. It has come a long way from the days of horse and buggy. Yet, where are we going now?

One look at the trajectory of Nursing indicates where we are headed. When Nursing first started, the profession was comprised of caring women who were viewed and treated as indentured servants, subservient to the male dominated physicians. Nursing evolved when the “servant” became educated. What followed were thousands of women beginning to diagnose, conduct research and improve outcomes in the healthcare field. Soon thereafter, they broke free of the care assistant model they were in. I see EMS following the same path.

The ambulance industry started out as transporters, with a curriculum that was adopted and funded by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The industry has roots in DOT, Police Departments, Fire Departments and the military, but are truly physician extenders that should be firmly rooted in Health Departments. EMS is now developing a language, doing research, obtaining national accreditation for our schools, even supporting continuing education with CAPCE. But we need to do more.

Outreach will help accomplish what many have started.  We need to consider the picture the public has of EMS, especially when we have overlooked self-promotion for decades.

Let’s be the ones who show the public what EMS is and is capable of.  I look forward to EMS education mirroring, “The Georgia Trauma Commission,” which collaborated with the Georgia Society of the American College of Surgeons and the Georgia Committee on Trauma to create the “Stop the Bleed” campaign. This inspiring crusade is designed to train school teachers, nurses and staff across the state on how to render immediate and potentially life-saving medical aid to injured students and co-workers while waiting for professional responders to arrive.” (2018, para. 4)  This type of training gives us face time with the public so they can learn what we do and what we do not.

One of the other important outreach programs to help us in this endeavor is the Community Paramedic Program. We are seeing this education transform EMS into new and exciting roles in the community. “First responders frequently respond to calls for social services. So, the emergency responders may know of people who need some sort of services or resources,” (Todd) Babbitt, a former fire chief, said. “This team could help connect those people with the services they need. It’s about getting everybody to work together and communicate.” (2018, para. 4)

What we can do is start to get EMS in front of the public. Teach. And open our historically closed doors to the folks that make it easier to do our jobs. Educate others and learn together how our roles are changing modern day healthcare while embracing the change. Otherwise we risk being left in the dust by our progressive healthcare brethren.

References

(2018, Feb 1st, 2018). Ga. School Nurses Train to Stop the Bleed. The Brunswick News. Retrieved from https://www.emsworld.com/news/219782/ga-school-nurses-train-stop-bleed

(Ed.). (2018, January 30th, 2018). Conn. Fire Chiefs to Form Community Action Team. Norwich Bulletin. Retrieved from https://www.emsworld.com/news/219757/conn-fire-chiefs-form-community-action-team

Is Narcan the Answer?

There has been a lot of talk recently in social media and the news about leaving Narcan behind after a reversal of an opioid overdose. A new voluntary program in Pittsburgh, PA allows the state to pay for Narcan atomizers that EMS can leave with friends and family of OD patients. The media buzz revolves around the idea that we are enabling this cycle of addiction; “There is some pushback that maybe you’re enabling the problem a little bit, but at least in the short term, reduce the chances that person is going to die and you create more opportunities to get them into treatment,” said Mark Pinchalk, patient care coordinator for Pittsburgh EMS.” (Media, 2018, para. 3) I agree with Mr. Pinchalk that as an EMS Provider we are not there to judge, we are there to render aid.

One of my early instructors said, “Scott, your purpose is to leave the patient better than the way you found them.” I have taken that long ago statement to heart ever since, trying to leave the patient better than the way I found them whether that is medically as in a Diabetic whose blood glucose I raise from 20mg/dl to 130mg/dl or the person who receives a ride to the hospital to be  checked out. EMS is about providing care. When we use our own judgements or opinions on our patients, it impedes or influences the care we provide.

These particular cases seem to bring out strong opinions surrounding a delicate issue. Thousands of people die every year from Opioid overdoses. A healthy percentage of them get their start on prescription pain killers. So where do we help? How do we not judge going to the same address three or four times a week to treat the same person in the same situation? These are just some of the tough questions providers and services face every day in America. Although we are trying to hold back the tide with a broom, it is up to us to provide the same level of care each and every time, regardless of the person or situation.

Will leaving Narcan at the scene save lives? Yes, I believe so. Will it encourage more drug use? I can’t be sure. Time will tell.

In comparison, studies show making birth control available to teens actually reduces sexual activity and reported pregnancies. Consider 2017 data that shows “Among adolescent females aged 15 to 19, 42 percent report having sex at least once. For males, that number was 44 percent. The numbers have gradually dropped since 1988, when 51 percent of female and 60 percent of male teens reported having had sex.” (Welch, 2017, para. 4)

So for now, I encourage the opportunity, as the law allows, to provide Narcan, knowing it doesn’t make the problem go away. And I look forward to EMS impacting this youthful epidemic. How? Community Paramedicine are the resource to embrace. Just like any other frequent patient, community paramedics will help those get the services they need including the much-needed follow up care.


Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME, which recently launched a new learning platform. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings.

References

Media, C. (Ed.). (2018, Jan, 26th, 2018). Local EMS starts program to leave Naloxone with OD victims. WPXI.com. Retrieved from http://www.wpxi.com/news/top-stories/local-ems-starts-program-to-leave-naloxone-with-od-victims/689842523

Welch, A. (2017, June 22nd, 2017). Are today’s teens more responsible about sex? CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/teen-sex-trends-birth-control-cdc-report/

Patient Satisfaction and the Collections Conundrum

Emergency Strikes

The year was 2001—seems like a distant memory. Expecting our first child, my wife and I were living in Modesto, California, thinking about cradles and nurseries. We were so excited—the little one we’d been expecting was on his way! Excitement quickly changed to deep concern as we learned there were some major complications with the pregnancy and our baby was in serious jeopardy. Life’s pause button was pushed as everything else in the world came to a screeching halt.

An ambulance transport and emergency delivery later, we found ourselves in our new home—the neonatal intensive care unit. For the next four months, we worked with medical teams around the clock to slowly usher our new 1-pound, 4-ounce son, Noah (now 15 years old), into the world.

Financial Domino Effects

This was an incredibly stressful time in our lives. Of all the things that burdened us, one of the most memorable was the nearly $5,000 invoice we received for a specific service. With no clue how we would pay this, I finally worked up the courage to pick up the phone and call the number on the invoice. The provider was demanding immediate payment before sending the bill to collections.

Me? Collections? But I’m the good guy, right? People should be reaching out to care for me. What just happened? After days of multiple information exchanges between me, the billing office and my insurance carrier, we finally figured it out—all charges were to be covered by insurance.

While our care through this time was generally very good, this unexpected charge put a cloud over the provider who lacked the proper information—despite a 120-day inpatient stay. Why did the provider send our bill to collections without contacting us? Where was the disconnect? Does this still happen today?

Fast Forward 15 Years to Smarter Billing and Collections

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Everyone knows a person with a similar story. But what if this patient billing story could be different? What if instead of multiple collection agency invoices demanding payment, I had been contacted early in the process? Or better yet, what if everything had occurred behind the scenes between provider and payor?

Technology advancements have narrowed the data gap that created these and other tensions for patients, providers and insurance carriers. Health care providers today can better serve their patients and communities through technology. The systems required to instantly supply insurance information and ensure patient-friendly billing are now available. It’s a matter of awareness and investment. Two key technology strategies are rapidly emerging to make collection letters and calls a thing of the past.

Real-Time Insurance Discovery

Insurance discovery solutions help providers find hidden insurance coverage for patients up front versus after the fact. Especially in emergency or self-pay situations, patients may have coverage the provider doesn’t know about. Finding coverage provides a tremendous boost to patient satisfaction and financial engagement.

For providers, finding and securing coverage early in the encounter helps billing teams circumvent months of patient statement and collection efforts. Operational costs are reduced and payor reimbursement is hastened. Best practices are rapidly emerging on how to incorporate real-time insurance discovery within patient registration and billing workflows.

Payment Likelihood Determinations

Where insurance coverage can’t be found or high deductibles result in exorbitant patient financial responsibilities, checking “payability” becomes crucial. Patients with minimal cash reserves or low propensity to pay can be moved to charity care, Medicaid, or account write-off. Families likely to qualify for financial assistance are also quickly identified by using payment likelihood applications.

Billers and collectors are more efficient and effective without damaging patient relations or community reputation. It is often a smarter long-term decision to write off patient balances in those cases where personal bankruptcy is only one medical bill away.

Proactive financial engagement, insurance discovery and smart collections are in the early stages in healthcare. However, provider organizations that embrace more patient-friendly billing strategies can significantly promote patient satisfaction and long-term community benefits.

Ted Williams has been a featured presenter at regional and national EMS conferences, including the state medical associations, ambulance networks, and technology user group conferences. Williams is a founder of Payor Logic, a national provider of healthcare revenue cycle solutions.

MetroWest’s JD Fuiten on Mobile Integrated Health

Metro West Ambulance’s Mobile Integrated Heath Program is a leader in the emerging world of community paramedicine and MIH.  The successes in our programs have been centered on the strong relationships we have built with our health system partners.  This partnership allows Metro West Ambulance MIH paramedics to better participate in the longitudinal care of our patients instead of the focused, episodic care of traditional EMS. We have now positioned ourselves as an integral part of the health care team.  The value of an MIH paramedic continues to expand as the skills, tools and knowledge of the paramedic profession as a whole continues to increase.

As the success of the MIH programs across the country continue to prove their value, we look forward to full recognition by CMS as a valuable patient care service that should be recognized outside of the traditional transport fee for service.

JD Fuiten
CEO, Metro West Ambulance
Director, AAA Board
2015 AAA Distinguished Service Award Winner
Hillsboro, OR

Cataldo Ambulance’s Ron Quaranto on Mobile Integrated Health

As a current mobile integrated health provider, we recognize the values of an MIH program which most importantly provides quality patient care to those in need, often in the comfort of their own homes. This is often done under the direction of the patient’s primary care physician in conjunction with the patient’s healthcare team. This allows for the patient to maintain their quality of life while receiving the medical attention they need—and ultimately reducing the healthcare expenses of hospitalization.

Ron Quaranto
COO, Cataldo Ambulance Service

Spotlight: SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital STARS Program

The Special Needs Tracking & Awareness Response System (STARS), was founded just over two years ago at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon’s Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. The team at Cardinal Glennon realized that they needed to do something to address the growing number of children in the U.S. with special health care needs, many of whom are at a higher risk for repeated ambulance transports.

As an EMT for over 18 years, Patricia Casey, the Missouri Coordinator of the STARS Program, knows how intimidating it can be for a first responder to walk into a home that in many ways may look like a hospital room. Children with special health care needs can require many different types of in home medical equipment that first responders are often not familiar with. The STARS Program aims to make the job of the first responders easier while making children with medical needs and their parents more comfortable with ambulances in case they need to be transported in one.

Cardinal Glennon works with local ambulance districts to enroll children with special medical needs in that district’s STAR Program. Once a child is registered in STARS, they are given a unique patient identification number and a home visit is scheduled with the patient and their family to compile pertinent medical history. Participating ambulance companies then create a book with all of the stars in their area so that their first responders have access to the medical information on the go. If a STAR needs to be transported, their caregiver can relay their STAR number to the dispatcher who will then let the first responders know. First responders can then look up crucial medical information about the STARS patient, so they can be better prepared when they arrive on scene.

Knowing that many medical devices in the homes of the STARS may be foreign to first responders, Cardinal Glennon’s staff provides free necessary trainings all around Missouri and now Illinois. Shelby Cox works as the Team Lead for EMS outreach, and Josh Dugal, RN, is the EMT-P STARS Coordinator for Illinois. Together with Casey, they help keep the program running smoothly. Each participating ambulance company appoints a STARS coordinator on their staff who will make biannual home visits and make sure the STARS medical information is up to date. Cardinal Glennon also sets up regular opportunities for STARS to visit their local first responders. Giving STARS the chance to get familiar with an ambulance and their local first responders prior to a medical emergency has been proven to help out both parties when an emergency occurs.

A paramedic who has responded to STARS calls explains that “the STARS system permitted me to have advanced medical knowledge before I walked through the door. There was no time lost backtracking to learn the patient’s history or baseline in the midst of a chaotic scene”. In addition to helping the first responders, the STARS program has been a huge reassurance to the parents of STARS whose children may often need medical assistance.

To learn more about Cardinal Glennon’s STARS program, visit their website or check them out on Facebook. Also check out Patricia Casey’s Article on the STARS Program which includes testimonials from both parents and first responders who have participated in the program.
Thanks to the entire team at Cardinal Glennon for your great work!

Do you know of other innovative programs being run by ambulance services? Share with the AAA so that we might feature those programs on the AAA Blog as well.

Savvik Discount on Physio-Control

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce that AAA members can now save significantly on Physio-Control products through the Savvik Buying Group.

Through Savvik’s partnership with Vizient (formally Novation), the largest acute care GPO in the United States, AAA members now have access to this discounted contract on AED’s, Monitors, and Lucas devices and accessories.

Visit the Savvik site today or contact office@savvik.org for details!

AAA Meets with FDA on New Drug Dispenser Regulations

On October 21, the AAA participated in a meeting with stakeholders and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the need to ensure new regulations don’t discourage the transfer of small quantities of drugs between dispensers, hospitals and first responders among others. Under the Drug Supply Chain Security Act of 2013, starting on November 1, drug dispensers must provide a full transaction history for transactions involving even small transfers of drugs. Since these transactions are often done in paper form, it will be difficult for many drug dispensers to be compliant with the new regulation and may opt to not distribute drugs in small quantities.

The AAA is participating in a coalition to ease initial enforcement on small transactions to help ensure those hospital pharmacies that provide first responders with drugs under a safe harbor agreement or direct cost reimbursement will continue to do so. The coalition of stakeholders including the AAA had sent a letter to the FDA on September 24 requesting the meeting.

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