The EMS Medical Directors course at the National Association of EMS Physicians Conference in Ft. Myers, Fla., featured a phenomenal agenda, professionals with a passion for EMS and unseasonably cold weather that kept attendees inside and around the conference area. This confluence of forces facilitated remarkable informal discussions before and after each session that touched on issues important to EMS today, including ambulance safety, customer service, resuscitation protocols, emerging technologies, an ever-evolving workforce and the challenges of changing patient demographics.

The economy was an underlying theme, especially for representatives from the largest EMS systems. Politics and public policy were also central to many of the formal and informal conversations.

As you’d expect from a conference of this caliber, the majority of the presentations were clinical and dealt with ever-changing care protocols and technologies. But Gregg Margolis, PhD, formerly of the National Registry of EMTs and now director of the Division of Health Systems Policy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and I were invited by conference organizers to address attendees on the topic of healthcare reform and its possible effect on EMS.

We both outlined the cost, access and quality elements of reform, as well as some nuisances. And we both made it a point in our presentations to emphasize the ever-changing nature of healthcare delivery, policy, reimbursement and law.

Accepting Change
The new Congress has now been seated. And as expected, the healthcare debate rages on. At one level, it’s exceedingly cool to live in a country where people are allowed to openly debate major policy changes. On another level, this constant dialogue about potential changes can be unnerving.

How individuals deal with change identifies the professionals among us. Professionals can always be recognized by their ability to adjust to change in a reasoned, sound and timely manner. Changes are a normal part of life, politics and work, especially in fields like EMS and rescue where every response is a result of some sudden change that has created an urgent—whether real or perceived—call for help.

Influencing Change
Depending on your individual focus or job, your interest may be in only one element of healthcare reform or it may be anything and everything under consideration. Regardless of the range of your focus, your involvement and active participation will today—just as it has in the past—help shape changes to come.

The key is to communicate with everyone around you, gather ideas and share information about a wide range of perspectives, views and approaches.

In clinical care, as in public policy development, the more you know and can do, the more likely it is that you can help bring about a solution. The more engaged you are and the stronger your communication and persuasive skills, the better you’ll be at telling your core story in a way that others will truly listen to and understand. And as a result of your collective efforts, the far more likely it is that you and those around you will be able to influence our nation’s ever-developing and changing healthcare system.

Seizing Opportunity
Echoing what I heard in Florida, the majority of people engaged in clinical care and public policy want to get it right, but the reality is that perfection is likely beyond the human chase. There never has been and never will be a perfect piece of legislation, because public policy is a hodgepodge of ideas occasionally landing somewhere on the outer fringes but more often than not settling somewhere in the middle.

It’s for these reasons that the U.S. Supreme Court exists and revisions to the law are frequent. And unlike some more benign policy discussions in which changes can be debated simply as a freedom of speech exercise, there’s less room for error in the laws that dictate how healthcare is delivered because patients and services can be irreversibly harmed in the process.

Any professional knows this: Although the general meeting and discussion are always important, much of life—and in this case public policy—is often influenced by sidebars outside the formal meetings and relationships. This isn’t a problem, but really an opportunity. Consummate professionals always seize opportunities wherever they surface and not just those that are part of the formal schedule.

This is why, for a lifetime, I have cherished the opportunity to engage in conversations with professionals from across our field, regardless of their background, location or opinion.

Information is power, and there’s no place where this is truer than in public policy development—where it’s always better to help bring about change and not simply have it happen to you in your absence. JEMS

This article originally appeared in April 2011 JEMS as “Embrace Change: Because it’s coming anyway.”This article originally appeared in April 2011 JEMS as “Embrace Change: Because it’s coming anyway.”