Emergency Medical Services are a vital component of healthcare, public health, and public safety. On any given day, in almost every community in our nation, EMS responds to calls. EMS is on duty 24/7. EMS saves lives from heart attacks, strokes, and drowning; treats injuries due to motor vehicle collisions, shootings, stabbings, and other violence; and provides care for the myriad of other illnesses and injuries that occur daily in the United States. When the big incidents hit – whether natural (tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, pandemics) or man-made (terrorist attacks, explosions, active shooters) – EMS provides medical care and helps communities pick up the pieces. The public counts on EMS to help them in their worst, most harrowing moments. Yet few understand exactly what medical services EMS provides, how EMS fits into the wider healthcare system, or how EMS is staffed, funded, and delivered. EmergyCare is pleased to present this brief introduction to EMS and how it effects people in Northwest Pennsylvania.
EMS is an intricate system, and each component of EMS has an essential role to perform as part of a coordinated and seamless system of emergency medical care. An EMS system comprises all the following components:
- Agencies and organizations (private and public; for profit and non-profit)
- Communications and transportation networks
- Trauma systems, hospitals, trauma centers, and specialty care centers
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Highly trained professionals
- Volunteer and career prehospital personnel
- Physicians, nurses, and therapists
- Administrators and government officials
- An informed public that knows what to do in a medical emergency
EMS does not exist in isolation but is integrated with other services and systems intended to maintain and enhance the community's health and safety. A combination of the principles and resources of each is employed in EMS systems. Since EMS providers work in the community, they are often the first to identify public health problems and issues. The emergence of significant health problems is often heralded by its arrival in the Emergency Department, and it arrives via EMS. Since EMS providers respond to all kinds of emergencies and all kinds of hazards, they often work shoulder-to-shoulder with public safety colleagues in law enforcement and fire services, but their primary mission is emergency medical care.
The organizational structure of EMS, as well as who provides and finances the services, varies significantly from community to community. Prehospital services can be based in a fire department, a hospital, an independent government agency (i.e., public health agency), a non-profit corporation (e.g., EmergyCare) or be provided by commercial for-profit companies. But, regardless of provider, the essential components of an EMS System remain the same.
The diagram above illustrates the complexity of an EMS system. In the diagram, the large circle represents each system element as it is activated in response to an incident. The arrows within the circle represent the specialty care areas within EMS. The list within the circle represents the elements acting behind the scenes to support the system. To be "ready every day for every kind of emergency," an EMS system must be as comprehensive as the one pictured above. Developing and maintaining such a system requires thoughtful planning, preparation, and dedication from EMS stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels.