Like many EMS departments across the nation, Montcalm County Emergency Services (MCES) in Stanton, Mich., is a busy place. Operations span the ALS ambulancetransport units and first response rescue units. MCES also manages disaster preparedness and response and serves the Montcalm County medical examiner.
To better streamline operations and provide the best in patient care, the agency decided to make technology the cornerstone of its documenting operations.So in 2004, Montcalm purchased the Ortivus' ePCR solution, an electronic patient care reporting (ePCR) and documentation tool designed specifically for EMS.
"By the time a paramedic created a document, we had to funnel that document through so many hands," says David Feldpausch, director of Montcalm County EMS. "It made sense to have it flow through a single system, rather than have it go through multiple hands and be interpreted multiple times."
The software system, which MCES is now beta-testing, allows users to efficiently collect data and then produce a myriad of patient care reports. "[The clean data capture] has really enhanced our documentation because there are certain pieces of the software that prompt paramedics to answer certain questions," says Feldpausch. "This makes the picture much clearer from the field process all the way through the system. We know exactly what the paramedic wrote or was thinking."
Keeping track of information is especially important to MCES because of the many units and people involved. MCES employs 17 full-time and permanent part-time paramedics and 12 permanent part-time licensed ambulance employees. Seventy-five part-time personnel staff the rescue division, which includes confined space rescue, search and rescue, and high-angle rescue.
Since installing Fusion ePCR, MCES' ability to analyze and evaluate data has been more effectively streamlined, making MCES' operations that much smoother. "Before we were pulling out reports and manually calculating anything we wanted to know, from response times to statistics to procedures," Feldpausch says. "All of that had to be done manually. Now, with about 30 seconds and five clicks of the mouse, we can have all of that right at our fingertips."
Getting everyone up to speed on Fusion ePCR took some time and training, but Feldpausch says once people were shown the efficiency and ease of use, they adapted very quickly. "Those employees who were computer savvy loved it right away, and those who weren't took a little longer to adjust," he says. "You only have to show them a couple of examples where it made a real difference in patient care, and the idea catches on."
The software has also helped MCES bring clarity to all forms of communication. "I think we've done a really great job of providing patient care, and we've done a bad job of telling the story of what we did," Feldpausch says. "We just assumed that everybody knew what immobilization meant. This software tells you all the pieces that go into an immobilization. Now we can simply check boxes and that information is captured. It has left us in a lot better position in describing what we have done."
Feldpausch adds, "It gets us in the habit of asking the right questions, and it has improved assessments. We are much better at documenting the important things than we were before."
With so many people needing access to the system, security needed to be tight enough to confidently secure data, but flexible enough to allow users needed access. MCES addressed this concern with the software's individual login and password. Passwords are changed monthly.
"When an employee logs in, the only thing that they have access to is something they have created," says Feldpausch. "They can't log into the system and view anybody's work." There are, however, administrative settings for supervisors and other authorized users who require additional access.
EMS departments thinking about installing electronic patient care reporting software should receive on-going computer support. MCES has required quick response to software issues and questions.
"If I have an issue, I can have an e-mail answer within 30 minutes," Feldpausch says. "If I have a support issue, I can have somebody logged in and on my system helping me in less than an hour."
Feldpausch sees a time when technology will grow even more pronounced in its sophistication, allowing EMS departments even greater opportunity for patient care. "I can see that we will make it to the point where we are not only doing what we're doing now, but will be including a lot more photographs and, possibly, even video," he says. "We just have to work on making it affordable."
Ultimately, many EMS departments will find greater advances in technology a cornerstone in running day-to-day operations. "At the end of the day, our goal is to provide the best patient care we can," says Feldpausch. "If technology can help us do it better and faster, then that's what we want to do."Cynthia Kincaidis an award-winning writer who has written numerous articles for medical and health-care publications and organizations. She was the recipient of a 2007 Excellence in Journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Cynthia holds a bachelor_s degree in journalism and a master_s degree in public administration.