Administration and Leadership, Columns

EMS Should be Delivered Like All Other Special Events

Issue 2 and Volume 41.

We’ve all been involved in planning events for special occasions or to honor special guests. Whether it’s a Super Bowl party or a baby’s first birthday party, we pay close attention to every detail so our guests feel comfortable and respected. We also want our guests to have a positive and memorable experience.

Our JEMS/PennWell team spends a lot of time planning and implementing our EMS Today Conference and Exposition, which started in 1980 with just 700 attendees. Now, 35 years later, it attracts 3,500 dedicated emergency personnel from around the world.

To do this, a team of over 40 staff members focuses on a multitude of tasks to ensure our attendees—considered not to be customers but invited guests—are honored with high-quality, innovative education and an exhibit hall that neatly displays the latest EMS medical equipment and technology.

Hanging stethoscopes, scissors and plastic suction containers on vehicle safety webbing isn’t a good idea.

Hanging stethoscopes, scissors and plastic suction containers on vehicle safety webbing isn’t a good idea. Photo A.J. Heightman

We’re meticulous in our efforts because we want our “guests” to be left with a positive impression and feel our warmth and hospitality.

To accomplish this, we plan and implement every detail, frequently by use of checklists. We plan who will greet attendees, where food will be positioned, and where coats and other essential items will be stored.

We also make sure our venue is spotlessly clean and all clutter is removed so that our guests feel our respect and sincerity.


If you think about it, the delivery of EMS is very similar to planning and carrying out a special event. The guest of honor is our patient— the person we interact with during a pivotal moment in their life.

Therefore, we need to approach each event (call) in a detailed, systematic, consistent and professional manner so the impression we present to them and the other “guests” we encounter (their friends, co-workers and family members) is a positive one.

This is often forgotten by crews and managers in EMS systems who fall victim to routine approaches in the busy world of EMS. But the impression we leave our “guests” with can influence public opinion, budget allocations, donations, complaints or legal actions.

So, what can we do to leave a positive impression on the “guests” we treat and transport? First, we need to make sure our ambulances, our mobile billboards, are spotless inside and out. The same applies to our uniforms and general appearance. A dirty ambulance or uniform gives a bad impression no matter what level or quality of care is offered.

People have a mental image about the way an ED and operating room is set up, with sterile rooms and instruments meticulously displayed. To them, that equates to medical professionalism, reduced infections and morbidity, and competency. We have to give them the same impression to gain their respect for EMS.

Cleaning of our vehicles should also not be just superficial. We need to carefully clean behind seats and squad benches, the step well of the patient compartment and all other prominent areas that can have dirt or debris on them. Dirt and trash in the patient compartment or cab, or blood left over from a previous call, sends a bad signal and can cause concerns about cross contamination or resultant infections, and reflect badly on our image.

We must also make sure that the equipment we’re using, which is always on public display, is neat, clean and well-organized so we give the proper impression to the patient and, just as importantly, the family members who accompany them to the hospital.

We have to make a conscious effort to not have clutter lying around in our vehicle that makes us look unprofessional. This includes making sure we don’t have stethoscopes or scissors dangling, swinging and jingling in the patient compartment all the way to the hospital.

It also includes making sure ECG cables, gloves or extra IV catheters aren’t laying helter skelter on the seating or action areas. Suction tubing should be neatly coiled and in sterile packaging and not left lying open and exposed to bacteria, within plain sight of a patient.

Lastly, we have to be cognizant of the fact patients and their family members watch our every move and listen to every word uttered during their moments of stress and concern.

In the new world of customer satisfaction surveys and reimbursement penalties, already in effect with hospitals, we in EMS can’t afford to leave bad impressions. Please pay attention to these little pearls, which cost little or nothing to accomplish, because they can pay dividends to you and your agency as you interface with your patients, your customers—your “guests”!

EMS Today conference

Learn more from A.J. Heightman at the EMS Today Conference & Expo, Feb. 25–27, in Baltimore, Md.