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EMS Needs a National Brand Identity

Editor’s Note: In May EMS Insider, we promised you more from Matt Zavadsky on the topic of branding EMS. In a special Web exclusive, here’s his take on how to create a national brand for EMS.

As a profession, EMS has a lot of work to do to create a respected image or “brand identity” on a state and national level. Perhaps the most poignant comment to illustrate this point came from an elected official in the Florida Senate when several of us were lobbying for an innovative change to the statutes that would dramatically improve patient care. One senator said, “We cannot vote to pave a road for you EMS people when you all want to take different roads.” Painful. But you know, she was right. The measure failed.„

We’ve been so busy pursuing the public vs. private agenda that we’ve lost credibility on a national front. We’ve invested so many resources battling each other that we’ve almost lost the war. „

There seemed to be a glimmer of hope when the lobbying group Advocates for EMS appeared to be making progress pursuing a truly cross-representative and singular voice for EMS on a national level. However, now as the April„EMS Insider reported (in “Fire Service Groups Create EMS Coalition”), one sector has created its own advocacy group specifically geared toward promoting its own agenda for one type of service-delivery model.„

So it’s back to square one.„

In the fog of this public vs. private war, EMS has lost its identity. We can ill-afford to invest our resources arguing which EMS “brand” is better. Instead, we must focus nationally on elevating the„profession, working in unison toward common goals.

So many issues affect all of us in EMS, whether the name of our agency ends in “Inc.” or starts with “City of.” There’s scope of practice, workforce development, funding and reimbursement, vehicle design standards, liability reform, treat-and-refer programs and a host of other challenges.„

Perhaps the national EMS community should pick one or two “white hat” issues (neither of which should have anything to do with money) and all push in the same direction to finally move the mountain.„

For example, we could start by changing our scope of practice to allow us to take the right patient, to the right facility, at the right time in the right way. We know that about half of the patients we respond to don’t need to be seen in an emergency department, yet we accept a system that forces us to take every patient to the most expensive care setting using the most expensive mode of transportation. Our neighbors in Canada and the United Kingdom are years ahead of where we are on this one issue and have garnered international acclaim for taking these initiatives.

If we can agree on this first step ƒ a step that would benefit every EMS agency, no matter what patch we wear on our sleeves ƒ we might actually help turn the Titanic before it hits the iceberg. Making that kind of difference in our nation and local community would go a long way toward establishing brand recognition for our profession.„

We need to realize that our essential mission is the same, our patients are the same and our motives are the same. Once we do that, we can find many areas on which we might actually agree. Once we get behind a common goal, there will be no stopping us. The first step is always the hardest, but once the momentum starts, look out!

We need heroes, we need true bi-partisan leadership to ferret out the areas we can work on together. We need to set aside our own agendas and stand together to improve our profession as a whole. As we help the EMS profession, we will help every participant in our profession and gain credibility on the state and national stage.„

Matt Zavadsky, MHA, is director of Tri-State Ambulance Inc., a not-for-profit that is sole ALS provider for 2,200 square miles of western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. He has been involved in EMS for more than 25 years, managing both public- and private-sector organizations, and served as chair of the American Ambulance Association’s Industry Image Committee. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member the University of Central Florida’s College of Health and Public Affairs, where he teaches courses in health-care economics and policy, ethics, managed care and U.S. health-care systems. Contact him at„[email protected].