I hope you’ll join me in celebrating our first responders in honor of National EMS Week, which runs from May 20–26. I have a deep respect for these heroes of our health care system, the under appreciated but critically important men and women who serve as paramedics, emergency medical technicians and ambulance service providers.
As a doctor, I’ve seen many things; but I don’t see what they see. I don’t have to transport sick patients down five flights of stairs, and do it safely when every second counts. I don’t have to administer lifesaving treatment outside of a hospital or procedure room, and I don’t have to operate at 65 mph.
Every day, in every community, in all 120 Kentucky counties including the 38 that don’t have hospitals, EMS responds to calls for help. In 2017, there were 788,917 incidents logged by the Kentucky State Ambulance Reporting System (K-STARS). That’s 2,161 per day. These are heart attacks, strokes and drownings. They’re injuries from car accidents and responses to unpredictable events like natural disasters.
Kentucky residents count on EMS in our most difficult moments, and doctors are no exception. The better EMS does its job, the easier it is for doctors to do their job. The General Assembly’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee just approved new EMS regulations from Gov. Matt Bevin’s Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services (KBEMS), that will, effective May 4, help both EMS and hospitals do their jobs better.
The new regulations bring some clarity to a murky issue, specifically what the guidelines are that dictate where EMS should transport patients, to which hospital. This can be confusing, but I know that I want my patients to be able to make their own decisions about where they receive their care. These new regulations factor in how close you are to the nearest facility and the patient’s preference. They’re also designed to prevent any preferential treatment.
One of the key takeaways here, a point of clarification not well understood by the public and especially not in times of crisis, is that in many cases you have a choice of where you go. There are times when proximity and suitability trump preference; your paramedic will let you know, and it would be wise to listen. But in other cases, this is your decision.
This is an issue that doesn’t really impact us … until it does. It impacts a lot of people in Kentucky. A recent study, conducted by the Rural and Underserved Health Research Center at the University of Kentucky, found that Kentuckians on Medicare are among the most frequent ambulance users in the nation. The top five states for ambulance use, according to the report, are Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Thankfully, we have topnotch EMS crews in Kentucky, and I can confirm that firsthand. They truly have seen it all. Next time you see one, thank them for the critical work they do every day.
Kamal P. Singh, M.D.
President, Graves-Gilbert Clinic